The Problems and Potential of Orlando

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Being that this website is focused on the Tampa Bay market, I haven’t written much about Orlando. But after discovering a recent article on the worst traffic bottlenecks in the US, I figured I should dive into a discussion about the role Orlando plays or could play in Tampa Bay baseball.

Facts about Orlando:

Orlando is the 20th biggest market in the US with a metro population of 2,920,603. In 2014, CNN rated Orlando the 4th fastest growing city in the US. According to the Orlando Economic Development Commission, Orlando is 71% white, 16% African-American, 4.2% Asian, and there are over 600,000 Hispanics.

Tampa Bay, by comparison, is 78.54% white, 11.58% African-America, 2.75% Asian, and there are 742,583 Hispanics in Tampa Bay.

The median age in Orlando is 36.8, 7 years younger than the Tampa Bay median age of 43.8. 10% of Orlando residents are 18-24, 28% are 25-44, 25% are 44-64, and nearly 14% are over 65.

Tampa Bay breaks down their demographics a bit different, but the area is definitely older, due heavily to 33% more people in the 65+ age group.

  • Age 18-34 19.74%
  • Age 35-54 25.08%
  • Age 55-64 13.66%
  • Age 65+ 21.52%

Although Orlando had a long history with baseball, no regular season team has called Orlando home since 2003. And after the Astros leave the Kissimmee suburb area for West Palm Beach in 2017, the Braves at Disney World will be the only team Spring Training near Orlando. If the Braves leave, as is rumored as well, the Orlando area will be “without a spring training team for the first time since World War II“.

That’s not to say people in and near Orlando don’t like or watch baseball. According to a press release from Fox Sports, Rays TV ratings in the Orlando area were up 29%. Cork Gaines at RaysIndex discussed the positive and negative to the release.

  • Positive: The Tampa Bay-Orlando combined market is over 3.3 million homes.
  • Negative: Without an original number to increase by 29%, we have no idea the actual number of households tuned in to Rays baseball.

Although we can’t determine how many area watching, using some marketing data, we can try to estimate the number of Rays fans in the Orlando area.

According to Facebook /NY Times research, the Yankees are the most popular team in Orlando’s Orange County. Of Orange County Facebook users, 32% are Yankees fans, followed by 16% Red Sox fans and 10% Rays fans.

The percentage of Rays fans in other Orlando area counties:

  • Osceola: 6%
  • Seminole: 10%
  • Lake: 12%
  • Polk: 35%

Extrapolating 10% Rays fans to the entire population of the Orlando metro area means nearly 300,000 Rays fans in the Orlando area.

Once we define the market, we next have to look at what kind of fans will they be. Will they buy tickets or will they only consume the games on media?

According to Google, from Downtown Orlando to Tropicana Field is 106 miles and a non-traffic time of 1 hour, 36 minutes. If we add in the Tom-Tom traffic congestion consideration of 19 minutes for Tampa and 17 minutes for Orlando, it becomes 132 total minutes – or 2 hours and 12 minutes. So it is fair to say few, if any, Orlando area fans will be attending Rays games from Monday through Friday.

In October, Orlando sports blogger Philip Rossman-Reich wrote about the potential of Orlando as a baseball city. He mentioned how the Rays need to get more proactive in Orlando in order to energize the fanbase. Of course, we can’t expect the Rays to do the type of consistent hands-on community marketing in Orlando they do in St. Pete or in Tampa, but if the Rays don’t keep their eyes on Orlando, they could lose the fans there to either the Marlins or the Yankees.

Which brings me to a question and a bit of wild speculation.

Could the Rays and MLB be better off sacrificing the Orlando market in order to give the Rays a monopoly in Tampa Bay? Put on your tinfoil hat and hear me out on this:

The City of Tampa’s lease with Steinbrenner Field ends in 2027. If that date sounds familiar, it is the same year the lease ends on Tropicana Field. As I have talked about before, if the Rays were to move to Tampa within 15 miles of Steinbrenner Field, they will owe the Tampa Yankees for potential lost revenue. But what if the Yankees moved Spring Training and the Tampa Yankees to Orlando? In 2012, there was a plan to move the Tampa Yankees to Orlando, but the plan was so ridiculous it fell apart before it could gain any steam.

(The proposed Tampa Yankees to Orlando plan estimated a daily attendance of 3,500 fans per night. In the Florida State League. In the summer. That would require breaking the Florida State League team attendance record every year. Not happening.)

But there is no doubt the Yankees would still be able to draw the same Spring Training attendance numbers in Orlando, slightly over 9,000 fans per game. And the Tampa Yankees would still draw in Orlando what they draw in Tampa, an average of 1,751 fans per game.

The biggest obstacle for moving the Yankees to Orlando is the lack of facility. There is none. But if a new Rays stadium were to be built, so too might a new baseball stadium in Downtown Orlando or other locations Rossman-Reich identified.

The second biggest obstacle is the negative economic impact on many Tampa business if Yankees Spring Training moved to Orlando. Although according to a 2009 study, the Yankees Spring Training have the least amount of out-of-state tourists at their games. Most of the ticket buyers at Yankees Spring Training are from inside Florida, but outside the Tampa area. They may not stay at hotels, but they are eating in local restaurants, etc. There will be a loss of revenue if the Yankees move. It is unlikely a new Rays stadium would provide the same restaurants to economic impact.

With a population of over 2 million and no regular season professional baseball, winning Orlando fans should be a marketing department’s goal. Perhaps the Rays can create a merch store in Downtown Orlando as they have in Downtown Tampa. Maybe they can put a merch store in a local mall or two. Maybe more synergy with the Orlando Magic. Maybe more appeal to Florida’s Hispanic community will capture the hearts and minds Orlando area baseball fans.

There is a lot of potential in Orlando. But with the Rays and Marlins still struggling to win their own local markets, Orlando will continue to be beyond their reach. A few fans from both teams might watch but neither Florida MLB team will have a strong presence in The City Beautiful.

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