Pat Williams' Orlando Dreamers hope to make a reality of baseball in the City Beautiful. But how?
A process that started in 2019, the Orlando Dreamers are the placeholder name for the bid to bring Major League Baseball to Orlando. And between their announcement, the COVID-19 pandemic, and today a lot has changed. But is it enough change for Major League Baseball to agree that Orlando is not only the right market, but the preferred market, both in-state and out, for it's future. Pat Williams sure as hell hopes so.
Courtesy of: Orlando Dreamers
What's so great about Orlando anyways?
We'll focus this towards the baseball argument, but being the number 17 television market in the US is a start. This places it just behind the current market for the Rays at 13 and just ahead of the market for the Marlins at 18. That placing also makes it the largest TV market in the country without a MLB or NFL team, the latter being the most important point in the argument. And while Orlando does have the NBA and MLS in town, MLB and the NFL are still looked to as the "gold standard" as far as Major League sports organizations (though the NBA does have an argument, different column, different day).
And outside of just being a large sustainable market on it's own, Orlando played host to 104 million+ tourists in 2022, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, and earned an estimated $31 billion from that. Second on that list, Las Vegas at $23 billion and we have all seen how successful Las Vegas sports has been since the Golden Knights popped that cherry in 2017. Speaking of the Vegas model, they tie right into the next point......
Where would they even put a baseball stadium? Downtown Orlando right?
Considering the line you could make between the Amway Center (Magic), Exploria Stadium (Orlando City), and Camping World Stadium (Monster Jam?) you would think that somewhere out there another stadium makes sense. But if you look through that area, there isn't a plot of land that makes sense. A lot of that area is housing in a city that is already becoming more strapped for affordable housing by the day. And though it is old, the cost to renovate or even tear down and rebuild at Camping World Stadium would be too high, especially when you consider it would have to be able to accommodate large scale collegiate football games that sell out the 65,000 seat stadium when the current renderings are only looking at 40,000 for the baseball stadium.
No, this would need to go elsewhere. Somewhere already equipped to handle a large amount of travelers, something you could sell to visiting fans to come see their team in while here but also with convenience to major highways for local fans to easily get to the game. And maybe even the rail system. And that is exactly where the Dreamers have landed after Pat Williams' presentation yesterday.
Courtesy of: Orlando Dreamers
Following Las Vegas' lead, the development location is on an undeveloped plot next to the Orange County Convention Center, SeaWorld's Aquatica Water Park, and just up the road from Universal's soon to be completed Epic Universe Theme Park, including countless other attractions, restaurants, hotels, etc., all on I-Drive. With access to the area from both the 528 Expressway and I-4 already established, and future expansion of the I-4 Express Lanes planned for the area as well as an extension of the SunRail/Brightline commuter trains, this hub is already primed for the expansion that an MLB franchise would require.
Yeah, but nobody lives over there, who is even going to go?!
Funny you should ask that. I pulled the projected radial populations for the 3 currently proposed sites for a certain baseball team in St. Pete who has an expiring lease in 2027 (not a coincidence) and this is what I found...
City Site/Radius From in Miles
Total Population (Est. 2025)
St. Pete (Tropicana Field) 10 Miles
St. Pete (Tropicana Field) 20 Miles
Tampa (Fairgrounds) 10 Miles
Tampa (Fairgrounds) 20 Miles
Orlando (Convention Center) 10 Miles
Orlando (Convention Center) 20 Miles
Data Courtesy of: Global Human Settlement Layer
And this doesn't even include that 104 million+ people who call Central Florida home for a week or 2 each year who are just looking for things to spend money on. The population is here, the dollars are here, the infrastructure is already in development. So what could possibly be the hold up?
Well now you have us excited, yeah what is the hold up?
There are a few factors, but lets start with the obvious one. The Tampa Bay Rays. The Tampa Bay area isn't just looking to get rid of a baseball team. Over the last 15+ years multiple ideas and drawings and press conferences have been held on the Gulf Coast trying to entice the Rays and owner Stu Sternberg to stay. And up until the last few years, those negotiations where almost exclusively from the the St. Petersburgh side of the bay. Everything from Al Lang Field, to the St. Pete Pier, to the most recent renderings of a remodeled Tropicana Field site, which the Rays own rendering proposal won. Which I view merely as posturing, as a last resort to cover all bases. But no action has been taken, and for good reason.
A team that has been one of the most consistently run franchises in all of Major League sports with multiple World Series runs in the most competitive division and against the most popular teams in the league hasn't cracked the bottom 5 in attendance since they were 22nd in 2010, and have only drawn 2 million fans once, their inaugural season in 1998. Last season, 19 different teams drew 2 million+ fans. All while making the playoffs the last 4 seasons in a row and playing in what many call the worst stadium in the league. Based on all of these factors, I don't believe St. Pete will be the city that keeps the Rays in the area or the state. No, Orlando's biggest obstacle to a team is Tampa, but where is there bid?
While prior to the season, Stu Sternberg addressed the topic saying they expect a new stadium deal by years end, there has been little but that as far as news coming out of Tampa regarding a new stadium. The last renderings and proposal that the ownership group backed in a proposed "Sister City" plan with Montreal was flat out rejected by Major League Baseball. And that only included plans for a sub-$1 billion dollar stadium which just doesn't align with where stadium development is in 2023. While discussions in the past included sites like Ybor City and the Fairgrounds, which we used for our data point earlier, there just doesn't seem to be the willingness out of county and city partners to supply the money necessary to keep the ownership group interested at this point. And in a perfect world for Orlando, these talks fall through and the Rays look to move just up I-4 and partner with the Williams' group and live happily ever after right up the road from Disney World. But I hardly think it will be that easy. Because it isn't just Orlando that wants a baseball team.
Well dang, who else is trying to get in on this?
Cities like Nashville, Charlotte, and now even Salt Lake City are all trying to get in on the action as MLB not only has multiple teams trying to resolve stadium issues (the Rays and the Athletics who chose, guess what, Las Vegas) but also has plans for expansion once those are settled. And while the Rays are plan A in my view, there is a lot more that would have to happen for plan B, an expansion team.
Now to just clear this up, if the Rays remain in Tampa Bay then all this goes away, like a *bad dream*. There is no way Orlando gets a baseball team if the Rays remain ~100 miles away. That is a non-starter. But in the event that Tampa/St. Pete falls through and Orlando is NOT selected for relocation, all eyes turn to 2030 and expansion. MLB is expected to expand by 2 teams, making for a 32 team league, and the way Pat Williams put it yesterday was perfect; 1 east of the Mississippi River, and 1 west of the Mississippi River. And guess who is east of the Mississippi River? Nearly all of the teams actively bidding for a team right now. And while Orlando may be the most intriguing bid in my mind, that is not to discount the abilities of these other cities as they continue to expand. But what makes us stand out is something that we spoke about a bit ago in this article, and that is the lack of an NFL team. Nashville (Titans) and Charlotte (Panthers) both have the most limiting factor to MLB being the #1 deal in town and that really makes them a harder sell, I believe, to MLB.
Ok, ok. But wait, you mentioned Tampa's "cheap" stadium. What is this going to cost and where is it coming from?
I knew you were paying attention. $1.7 billion with a proposed $975 million of that coming from the Orange County Tourist Development Tax Fund, which the monies from that are specifically earmarked for use in bringing more tourism to the area. An unbelievable sum of money to be sure. But that is why Orlando is so unique in this bid, having access to that kind of funding is not common to many of these cities making bids or trying to keep their team. And whether that is enticing enough to an owner like Stu Sternberg to move or a multiple team owner like the Wilf Family, current owners of the Minnesota Vikings and who purchased Orlando City SC in 2021, to invest in an expansion franchise, it gives Orlando a big step up.
But it really all does come down to timing, and right now Pat Williams and the Dreamers have put their cards out on the table. If there ever was a time, that time is now. Whether you want the Rays to stay in Tampa Bay, move to Orlando, or to see an expansion franchise. Orlando has their dream out there. now just to see if it comes true.
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