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Official Review by Miles Markiewicz, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Orlando City Soccer Club is not just the name of an MLS team, it’s the representation of a growing community in the heart of Central Florida. In its first year as an MLS club, the Lions have built an incredible fan base through the use of strategic marketing and pride for the beautiful game.
In the Lions’ inaugural MLS match against New York City FC, the Citrus Bowl sold out with an attendance of 62,510 thanks to a strong “Fill the Bowl” campaign. That mark put Orlando City in the top 10 highest MLS crowds ever recorded, and that was just the first night.
In 2015, Orlando City boasted the second highest average attendance in the league at 32,851 without even making the playoffs. The future is bright for this thriving organization with a soccer-specific stadium coming in 2016.
The Orlando Citrus Bowl is home to Orlando City SC during construction of the new stadium. The Citrus Bowl has hosted many great sporting events including international soccer, college football bowl games and now professional soccer games.
The $207 million renovation project began in 2014 and finished just in time for the 2015 MLS season. Located five minutes from downtown, the Citrus Bowl now has the official look of a pro style stadium with a capacity just over 60,000.
In addition to hosting two major college bowl games each year, the Citrus Bowl will now host one regular season college football game to kick off the season for two teams on a neutral site. The Florida State Seminoles and Ole Miss Rebels will battle on September 5, 2016.
The Citrus Bowl already provides great sports history for the city of Orlando, but hosting the inaugural season of Orlando City SC may be its best chapter yet.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food and beverage options for the game are adequate. Orlando doesn't really offer unique food items to try, especially inside the stadium, but the Game Dog for $7 is a great deal. This rotates based on the chef's choice and offers a creatively delicious food option. On this particular day, a pizza dog with marinara sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese was the chef's choice. Upon entering the stadium, pair one of those with a large beer ($11) and enjoy the game. You don't want to miss any game action, and there isn't much time at the half to grab concessions, so prepare accordingly.
There is a nice local beer stand called Church Street Tap where you can find more flavorful beers for $10. Other drink options include bottled soda ($5.50) and bottled water ($5). The hamburgers taste like sausage burgers. A combo with fries will cost $12, including the spicy chicken sandwich w/fries. Check out the "Sizzle" stand for a chorizo sausage for $9, a much better option than the hamburger. Nachos ($5), popcorn ($4.50), peanuts ($4.75) and jumbo pretzels ($4) are also available.
The first thing you'll notice about the exterior of the stadium is the beautiful placement of palm trees all around the perimeter. The scenery mixed with a humid Orlando night really sets the cultural tone.
The Orlando Citrus Bowl is known as one of the best stadium experiences in central Florida. Orlando City SC takes this atmosphere to the next level. The noise generated inside the stadium is incredible. The chants during the match are explosive and encourage everybody to participate. The roar of the crowd after a goal is deafening and is one of the best moments of the experience.
You might not know how to sing the Spanish chants in the beginning of the match, but you'll be clapping and chanting along in perfect harmony by the second half. This atmosphere is infectious and relies on everybody in the seats to participate in order to create a unique game day experience that American soccer can proudly put on display.
If you've never been to a soccer match before, this is the perfect outlet to learn what the culture of the game truly brings to the table that differs from other American sports such as football. The opening ceremonies will be one of the most noticeable differences. The game of soccer chooses to make this a regal procession rather than a team bursting onto the field. Tradition such as this is very important to the beautiful game and is effective in its build up during pre-game.
The only negative factor of the atmosphere is the aesthetic of the empty upper bowl. Even though the 32,000 fans provide plenty of sound, it's difficult to ignore the empty seats. The new stadium will alleviate this problem and take this atmosphere to another level.
The Orlando Citrus Bowl is located right outside of downtown Orlando, a short walk from Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic. Downtown Orlando is a fashionable place to be on the weekends, and especially before and after an Orlando City home game. Supporters start with happy hour right after work and go into the early morning after a big win.
The layout of the downtown area is pretty easy to follow as long as you know where Church Street and Orange Avenue are located. In a really cool initiative to grow support of the club and the community, the Orlando City organization has certified "city pubs" located downtown and in neighboring areas.
Wall Street Plaza offers seven venues in one location with great drink specials before and after the game. Other certified downtown pub areas include Elixir Bar Room and Hash House, and Harry Buffalo. Discounted Heineken is offered at all locations on game days, along with away game watch parties. This cohesive effort to keep fans involved outside the stadium is very impressive and creates a true sense of community and club.
The Citrus Bowl is within walking distance of the stadium, but the way to go is to catch a Pedi Cab ride to take you and your party to the stadium gates. You can usually negotiate a decent price with the local drivers. Once you reach the stadium, a sea of purple greets your eyes as everyone makes their way in for the game.
The Wall is the coalition of supporter clubs coming together in the south end zone to create one of the craziest fan sections in sports. This is comparable to a rowdy student section in college football. Giant flags are being displayed at all times, supporters lead the entire stadium in chants and some even choose to hop on each other's shoulders for optimal viewing. There is also use of drums/instruments and controlled smoke for celebrations.
It's not just the immense size of the supporters section that make it impressive, it's the passion and continuous support of the team for 90 minutes, no matter the score. This energy, much like the atmosphere, is infectious in nature and brings together the entire crowd.
The Ruckus is the original supporter club that originally labeled itself as the "Orlando Soccer Supporters Club" in 2009, without an affiliation to a specific team. The passion for the game was so strong that this club didn't even wait for a professional team. As long as the team existed in their beloved city, they would stand behind them. The other certified supporter club is The Iron Lion Firm.
The new Orlando City Stadium is set at a capacity of 25,500 and is projected to sell out every game, according to this year's attendance numbers. The original supporter clubs and the cohesive effort of The Wall will make this a special place to be on game day.
Accessibility in and around the stadium is seamless if you follow the best protocol. Parking downtown is the cheapest option for about $10-$15 in the local garages, and from there you can begin the experience right away complete with a Pedi Cab ride to the stadium (if you don't mind paying the extra cash), or taking the short walk. Parking options get increasingly more expensive the closer you get to the stadium, but the great atmosphere and large crowds make the journey from downtown a better and more affordable experience.
The new renovations inside the Citrus Bowl make the amenities extremely accessible and more enjoyable. The concourses were widened to provide optimal space and accommodate increased flow of foot traffic. Lines to get inside the stadium move quickly and restrooms are numerous and easy to find. The aisles also have increased space and the seats offer a lot of room to stand up, move around and jump wildly when the Lions score a goal.
The upper bowl is not opened for every game, but when it is they offer the most affordable tickets in the stadium. Every seat offers a great view and the atmosphere is one of the best in the league. This is the rowdiest sporting event in the city, so any price to pay on the ticket will be well worth the experience. You will definitely want to become a part of this incredible spirit and community.
Food is a bit pricey; stick with the game day dog and a beer/soda and that's all you need. Make sure you're in your seat for every minute of game action because you never know when something exciting will make the stadium erupt in celebration. There's no greater feeling than being a part of something like that, and it makes the experience worth what you pay at the ticket office. If you're looking to save some money or make it a family night, skip downtown and head straight to the stadium.
A bonus point for The Wall and the extremely impressive presence of the entire supporters section. They command the stadium with vibrant chants and raucous atmosphere that creates an intimidation factor for the opposing team.
The new renovations earn the Citrus Bowl another point here. It's rare that a city gets the funding and backing to completely restructure a stadium in order to revamp the culture in the community. This effort reaches beyond Orlando City SC into other areas of the community. The major events hosted by this venue will continue the growth and expansion of this great city.
If you're lucky enough to score some seats in the lower bowl, give yourself another point for the experience, especially if you can sit near one of the goals or the imposing will of The Wall.
One more point for the awesome location just outside of downtown and near the Amway Center. You should find a weekend where Orlando City SC and the Orlando Magic both host a game for the complete Orlando professional sports scene.
The best part about this stadium journey is the relation to all sports fans. Soccer is growing in the United States and finding new fans every day. An Orlando City SC match is perfect for new or old fans of the game, but most importantly is accepting of all fans. There is no exclusivity or knowledge of the game required, but a sense of community and club inspired by the fans who fill the stadium. There's no telling what this experience will turn into in the coming years. Check back for an update when the new stadium opens.
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