A Successful Pro Bowl Increases Orlando’s Case as a Major Sports City

Orlando is ready to make its mark as a true major sports city. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The 67th NFL Pro Bowl takes place this Sunday in Orlando. It’s only the third time in 38 years it’s been held away from its mainstay location of Honolulu, Hawaii. Next season it will be in the “City Beautiful” as well, and there’s an option for 2019. What an opportunity for Orlando and Orange County leaders to show the sports world that we are a major league sports city. Not just a family-friendly tourist destination.

The NFL is the king of pro sports in America. Whatever they decide to do, you can bet the commissioners of the other major sports are taking notes. That’s why a very successful week of hosting the Pro Bowl and its events, official and unofficial — ahem, parties at nightclubs — will go a long way in enticing other major sporting events to make their way to central Florida.

Let me say this first, I know the Pro Bowl is a meaningless game that leaves much to be desired from hardcore football fans. Many of the top players have either withdrawn or are playing in the Super Bowl. Even with that said, the game has sold out the 65,000 capacity stadium including standing room only. Score one point for Florida Citrus Sports and their CEO Steve Hogan for making people care to spend their hard earned money for this game.

The great thing about moving the Pro Bowl to central Florida is it gives true football fans a chance to come out and get up close and personal with their favorite gridiron stars. That wasn’t the case when the game was held in Hawaii. It’s much easier and less expensive for NFL fans to get to Orlando for the game and week, then it is to get to Honolulu. Sure players would rather have that trip to the 50th state, but it’s not like central Florida weather and beaches is anything to sneeze at this time of the year with highs in the mid-70’s. But also in this day in age where the players are more worried about their brands, I’m looking specifically at you Antonio Brown, Mister Facebook Live, it would benefit them to be in the continental U.S. where their fan base can get to them. Score another point for the 407.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs want to be considered for future Super Bowls, NCAA National Football and Basketball Championships. We have the state-of-the-art facilities to host those events.

The 80-year old Camping World Stadium, better known and still affectionally called the Citrus Bowl, just underwent a $207 million dollar renovation. No it’s not the billion dollar playpens in Dallas, Minnesota and Atlanta, but It is already the hosts of three college football bowl games annually. Last season it was the site of Florida State’s spring game and a regular season matchup against Ole Miss. In the coming seasons, Louisville, Alabama, Florida and Miami will play in the Camping World kickoff game here. Just last November, the ACC moved its conference championship game from Charlotte to Orlando due to the controversial North Carolina House Bill 2 law. It has hosted Wrestlemania’s and it will host another this April. It can host major events.

In the past seven years, a the $480 million dollar Amway Center was built and hosted the 2012 NBA All-Star game and first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Orlando City Lions of the MLS opens its $155 million dollar soccer specific stadium this spring. 10 miles east of downtown on the campus of UCF, there’s the 10-year old 45,000+ capacity Bright House Stadium and 10,000+ seat CFE Arena.

City leaders have spent the money and made the efforts to make sure everything needed is in place for central Florida to prove it has more to offer than Disney World, Universal Orlando and other touristy attractions. Another point on the board for Orlando.

With the new soccer stadium, there can also be an opportunity to draw National team events.  Maphre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio is currently the adopted hometown for the Men’s team, but  Orlando could extend an invitation to become the home base for the U.S. Women’s National team who recently played in the Citrus Bowl in 2015. The city was successful when it was one of the host sites for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

All that can be decided in the future. But for the present it’s important that the city and its leaders maximize these rare opportunities. Orlando is ready to explode onto the national and world sports scene. And a great working relationship with the NFL will be the key that unlocks several other doors.

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