LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – As I begun my final last moments packing my suitcase after spending a week in this paradise called “The City Beautiful”, I also discovered why Orlando would be the perfect spot for an NFL expansion team.
I don’t preface this column because I’m in my hotel room late amidst a screensaver worthy vista of palm trees, swimming pools, beaches and club music blaring late at night. I say this as I was with my wonderful family on vacation at Disneyland and being out in in the areas of Lake Buena Vista and getting a chance to interact with some of the locals in the greater Orlando area.
One overall impression that I came away with, is that they love their city and they love their sports.
That alone told me that Orlando is more than ready to have an NFL team.
With a metro population of 2.4 million and city-proper population of 270,934, Orlando has a comparable population to that of current NFL cities such as Kansas City (475,378), Atlanta (463,878), Miami (441,003), Oakland (419,267), Minneapolis (410,939), New Orleans (389,965), Dallas/Arlington (388,125), Cleveland (388,072), Tampa Bay (369,075), Pittsburgh (304,391), Cincinnati (298,550), and is bigger than current NFL city Buffalo, who has a city population of 258,071.
Thanks to also being the home of current pro teams such as the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears and the NBA’s Orlando Magic, the Sun Belt haven is a mecca of sports, tourism and entertainment.
Known as “The Theme Park Capital Of The World”, O-Town—as it is also called by the locals—draws more than 62 million visitors yearly.
Thanks in large part to being the home of Walt Disney World, the Universal Orlando resort and Universal Studios, Orlando is the 24th-largest metro area in the country, the sixth-largest in the South, third-largest in Florida and the Sunshine State’s largest inland city, per the US Census Bureau stats from 2016.
And it is surrounded by pigskin for miles and miles.
Tucked dab-smack in the middle of Central Florida, Orlando is perhaps the best-kept secret in sports in terms of having a football-hungry fan base that is divided between the Jacksonville Jaguars, 143.3 miles to the north, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 85 miles to the southwest and the Miami Dolphins who are 235 miles to the southeast.
And thanks to already being home to the University of Central Florida, Orlando is practically surrounded by college football powerhouses such as the University of Florida (113 miles), Florida State University (257 miles) and the University of Miami (FL) (235 miles).
Did I fail to mention that they also host a New Year’s Day bowl game too?
In addition to being in the heat of the football-obsessed—and I say that lightly, but with much trepidation, after being down there—Orlando already has an NFL-ready stadium in Camping World Stadium, also known as The Citrus Bowl—that just hosted the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl.
Orlando has become a college football showcase in hosting early-season games such as Ole Miss vs. Florida State last year, up-and-coming MLS side Orlando City and their stunning 25,500-seat Orlando City Stadium, and the ORL has a strong case to become the home of a current team—what’s up Jaguars!—or a team—and a few regular-season games—of it’s own.
Orlando is one of the largest media markets that doesn’t have a NFL team, and yet, ti is also one of the richest in terms of equity, location and a built-in fan base ready to cheer them on.
Besides a rich—yet spotty—history of pro football in Orlando, teams such as the defunct World Football League Florida Blazers, the Orlando Renegades of the USFL, Florida Tuskers of the UFL, the Orlando Panthers of the Continental Football League, the Orlando Thunder of the World League of American Football and the Orlando Rage of the XFL, Orlando has shown that it can be a good location for a pro team.
The NFL itself, is an entirely different animal altogether.
Just imagine for a second that a CERTAIN mega uber-congolemerate, that pretty much owns anything and everything under the sun worth a few billion, and also also a certain sports network who also happens to have their Wide World of Sports complex in the area, with a super-annoyingly cute mouse as it’s mascot and a catchy da-da-da-da-da-da hook of a song, and you know where I’m going here.
Now just picture for a second a Disney-led investment group interested in bringing Orlando a NFL expansion team–complete with a shiny $2 billion stadium smack dab in downtown Orlando providing picturesque views of Lake Eola, and with the kind of money, free advertising on its sports content arm in ESPN, the type of leverage it could have AND the type of talent pool in terms of players, coaches etc. it could draw from the Sunshine State itself!
Yeah! You’d better believe that the Dolphins, Bucs and Jaguars would be flooding New York with calls, snaps, tweets and what not to block such a move from happening in their own back yard!
The NFL is a business all about the bottom line, and makes no apologies about it. After putting a team in Sin City, what makes you think that they’d not consider Orlando due to all of the reason mentioned about.
After seeing and experience Orlando firsthand, the sight and sounds of shoulder pads violent crashing under clear blue skies and palm trees, may not be such a bad thing.