This Saturday, Sept. 7, Orlando City will play for its second USL-Pro title in three years. Shortly thereafter, Orange County and the city of Orlando are expected to approve $20 million in funding for a soccer-specific stadium — the final hurdle in bringing MLS back to Florida.
It’s easy for soccer supporters in Sacramento to feel a little envy with regard to Orlando, which in three years has executed the blueprint Sacramento aims to follow when Republic FC begins play next year.
But while Sacramento waits for big-time investors and a successful and well-supported inaugural season from Republic FC to boost its MLS dreams, there are an encouraging number of parallels between Orlando and Sacramento.
Both are warm-weather cities that sit in the middle of their respective states. They are about 90 minutes to the east of a bay area and usually are overshadowed by their more glamorous, celebrity-driven neighbors to the south.
The Orlando metro area boasts 2.1 million people, compared to 2.5 for Sacramento. Orlando is the No. 19 largest TV market in the U.S. (1.45 million households), while Sacramento comes in at No. 20 (1.39 million).
Both cities have one top-tier professional team — an NBA franchise that came to town in the ’80s. Demographically speaking, both cities’ Hispanic populations account for about one quarter of the people (25 percent in Orlando and 26 percent in Sacramento), though the majority of Orlando’s Hispanic population is of Puerto Rican descent.
In addition, both cities feature relatively young populations. The average age in both cities is 33, which bodes well for a sport that generally appeals to a younger demographic than other American sports.
Finally, the difference in average household incomes between Orlando ($42,863) and Sacramento ($46,467) is less than four thousand dollars.
Of course, important differences persist. Orlando is the most-visited city in the United States, thanks to Disney World. While tourists likely aren’t flocking to Orlando City games, their dollars create a robust private sector – which means more dollars for investment and advertising.
Sacramento’s largest employer — the State of California — won’t be pumping dollars into Republic FC.
And speaking of investment, Orlando City also has the backing of Flavio Augusto da Silva. The Brazilian millionaire and majority owner reportedly has pledged to cover Orlando City’s MLS expansion fee and a portion of the stadium costs.
In addition, da Silva is friends with Brazilian star Kaká, fueling rumors Kaká might join the Lions when they reach MLS. Republic FC, meanwhile, continues its search for a similar benefactor.
Still, as Sacramento fans wait and speculate how soccer will fare here, our similarities to a success story like Orlando create cause for optimism.
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