Sports in Orlando, Florida
Orlando, Florida, has a history of major events in sports. It has had a considerable measure of success in minor league sports as well, with teams winning several minor league championships.
- 1 Major league sports
- 2 University of Central Florida Knights
- 3 International soccer
- 4 Minor league and semi-pro teams
- 5 Venues
- 6 Defunct or relocated teams
- 7 Other sports
- 8 Famous athletes
- 9 See also
- 10 References
Major league sports
|Orlando City SC||Soccer||MLS||Orlando City Stadium||32,847||2015||0|
|Orlando Pride||Soccer||NWSL||Orlando City Stadium||N/A||2016||0|
|Orlando Magic||Basketball||NBA||Amway Center||16,785||1989||0|
|Orlando Solar Bears||Ice Hockey||ECHL||Amway Center||6,209||2012||0|
|Florida Fire Frogs||Baseball||FSL||Osceola County Stadium||1,308||1994||0|
|Orlando Anarchy||Football||WFA||Trinity Preparatory School||—||2010||0|
Orlando Magic (NBA)
Orlando is home to the Orlando Magic, an NBA pro basketball franchise that plays at Amway Center in downtown Orlando. The Magic hosted the 1992 NBA All-Star Game at the now defunct Amway Arena, and hosted the 2012 NBA All-Star Game at the Amway Center.
Orlando City SC (MLS)
Orlando City SC began play in Major League Soccer in 2015 as the league's 20th team. The effort to bring an MLS expansion team to Orlando had been led by Phil Rawlins, who had been working publicly since 2010 to bring MLS to Orlando. MLS officially announced in November 2013 that Orlando would join MLS, after the club had received the necessary approvals from city and county officials to construct a new stadium. Orlando City plays in a new stadium in downtown Orlando that began construction in 2014 and was completed in 2017. They played their first and second seasons at the Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Orlando had been previously considered for a Major League Soccer franchise following its 1994 World Cup success, but no willing investors were identified at the time. In 1998, Orlando hosted the 1998 MLS All-Star Game, where the U.S. All-Stars beat the World All-Stars, 6-1, before an attendance of 34,416.
Major League Baseball
Orlando was a finalist in the 1993 MLB expansion. It lost out to Miami and Denver. It was also a finalist in the 1998 MLB expansion, losing out that time to St. Petersburg and Phoenix.
The Orlando area is home to spring training for two Major League Baseball teams. The Atlanta Braves train at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort, and the Houston Astros train at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.
Orlando Predators (AFL)
The Orlando Predators have played since 1991 in the original Arena Football League. The Predators' rivalry with the Tampa Bay Storm was one of the landmark features of the AFL. The Predators won the ArenaBowl in 1998 and 2000, and also recorded the only shutout in AFL history in 1992.
After the original AFL folded in 2009, the Predators resumed play in 2010 in the new Arena Football League, reconstituted by a group of AFL and af2 franchises. The Predators played at the city-owned Amway Center until 2013, but in September 2013 the city of Orlando notified the Predators it was canceling their lease, because the low attendance numbers of 5,878 were in default of the lease's minimum provisions, and because of the team's "thin and tenuous financial performance."
For the 2014 season, the Predators moved to the smaller CFE Arena on the University of Central Florida campus after its lease at Amway Center was revoked due to declining attendance. With the team purchased by Westgate Resorts owner David Siegel during the 2014 season, the Predators will move back to Amway Center for the 2015 season.
Orlando Anarchy (WFA)
Orlando is home to the Orlando Anarchy, a women's professional football team that plays in the WFA (Women's Football Alliance). The Orlando Anarchy have been playing since 2010, formerly known as the Central Florida Anarchy.
University of Central Florida Knights
The UCF Knights, the athletics teams of the University of Central Florida, compete in NCAA Division I. They joined the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1996, and Conference USA in 2005. The UCF Knights football team won the Conference USA Championship in 2007 and 2010. Its soccer program has produced several high-profile players, including FIFA 100 honoree Michelle Akers. The campus features Bright House Networks Stadium for football and UCF Arena for basketball, both built in 2007. Other facilities include Jay Bergman Field (baseball) and the UCF Soccer and Track Stadium (soccer, track and field).
The Citrus Bowl is the home of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (formerly the Florida Citrus Bowl and Capitol One Bowl) and the Russell Athletic Bowl (formerly the Tangerine Bowl). It also hosts regular-season football games for Jones High School, as well as the annual Florida Classic played between the NCAA Division I-AA Football teams from Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University, and the state's high-school football finals.
Orlando has hosted matches for several high-profile international soccer tournaments. In the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Orlando's Citrus Bowl hosted five matches—four group-stage matches and one Round of 16 match—with Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Morocco each playing multiple matches at the stadium. Each of the five games drew an attendance of over 60,000.
Orlando also hosted six group stage matches for the 1996 Summer Olympics men's soccer tournament—three each in Groups B and D—with an average attendance of over 20,000 per game. Orlando also hosted three Group E matches for the 1996 women's tournament, with similar attendance figures.
Minor league and semi-pro teams
The original iteration of Orlando City SC played in the third division USL Pro from 2011–2014. In 2010, Steve Donner formed Orlando Pro Soccer which was awarded a future United Soccer Leagues pro expansion slot for 2011. Later that year, Phil Rawlins moved the Austin Aztex FC to Orlando and formed Orlando City SC, beginning play in USL Pro in 2011. Orlando City won the 2011 USL Pro Championship, and the highest attendance in the league while playing at the Citrus Bowl during its first three seasons. 2014 saw a decline in attendance that resulted from being forced to move to a smaller venue at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World Resort during the renovation of the Citrus Bowl.
The Central Florida Kraze formed in what is now the Premier Development League, the highest amateur league (4th tier overall) in the United States soccer league system, in 1998. Playing in Orange and Seminole Counties, the team won the PDL championship in 2004. Orlando City eventually took over several youth soccer groups and the Kraze to form a unified soccer development system under their brand. Orlando City is now represented by teams in several levels of the United Soccer Leagues, including the Super Y-League, Super-20 League and PDL.
Pro baseball has been played in Orlando since 1919, primarily in the Class A Florida State League, until the Orlando Twins joined the AA Southern League in 1973. Tinker Field, named for baseball hall-of-famer Joe Tinker, is a historic baseball stadium next to the Citrus Bowl, currently out of use. It was formerly the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins (and the Washington Senators before they relocated to Minneapolis) and the AA Southern League affiliates of the Twins, Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
There had been a grassroots campaign to attract Major League Baseball permanently to Orlando, with initial speculation pointed to the group building an MLB-class stadium with private financing. However, the group has settled for attracting a Class-A minor-league team with a new stadium on International Drive. They announced they were discussing a possible purchase of the Tampa Yankees in 2010, but those plans fell apart when a potential stadium construction deal was struck down.
The Disney stadium hosted first-round (Pool D) games in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and two three-game series between for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007 and 2008. As is common with spring training complexes in Florida, the stadium currently hosts the Braves' rookie league affiliate, the Gulf Coast Braves.
In the 1990s, ice hockey became popular in Orlando, perhaps due to large influx of northerners to the city. In the 1993–94 NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning played four "home" games at the Orlando Arena, with a 1-2-1 record.
In 2011, an investment group announced that they were approved to lease Amway Center for a new franchise in the "Premier AA Hockey League" ECHL, which was formally awarded on November 1, 2011. Two weeks later, it was announced that they had received the blessing of previous owner Rich DeVos to revive the Orlando Solar Bears name. The team began play in the 2012–13 ECHL season, with their first game against the Florida Everblades in Estero, Florida, on October 12, 2012. Their home opener was October 20, 2012, also against the Everblades.
|Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium||61,348||1936||City of Orlando||Orlando City SC|
|Bright House Networks Stadium||45,323||2007||University of Central Florida||UCF football|
|UCF Soccer and Track Stadium||2,000||1991||University of Central Florida|
|Jay Bergman Field||3,600||2001||University of Central Florida|
|CFE Arena||9,465||2006||University of Central Florida||UCF basketball|
|Amway Center||20,000||2010||City of Orlando||Orlando Magic; Orlando Solar Bears|
|Orlando City Stadium||25,500||2017||City of Orlando||Orlando City Soccer Club|
Defunct or relocated teams
In 2000, the Orlando Rays moved from Tinker Field to Cracker Jack Stadium at the Wide World of Sports Complex. The Rays drew poorly at Disney and moved to Montgomery, Alabama for the 2004 season. Since then, Orlando has had no pro baseball team. Meanwhile, the Disney stadium has been mostly empty ever since.
The WNBA's Orlando Miracle played four seasons at Amway Arena (1999–2002). After 2002, when owners were permitted to sell their WNBA teams, the Miracle were purchased by Mohegan Sun casino and moved to become the Connecticut Sun. The Orlando Aces played one season in the new ABA in 2006–07 before moving to Las Vegas.
Professional football in Orlando in goes back to the 1960s, when the Orlando Panthers played in the minor-league Continental Football League. The Panthers won two CPFL titles in 1967 and 1968, but folded with the league after the 1969 season. In 1974, the World Football League was formed, and a franchise originally planned for Boston, then moved to the Washington, D.C. area, wound up in Orlando as the Florida Blazers. Despite playing before sparse crowds at the Citrus Bowl and not getting paid for weeks at a time, the Blazers won their division with a 14–6 record and qualified for the first (and only) WFL championship game, losing to the Birmingham Americans, 22–21. The franchise was relocated to San Antonio for the 1975 season, then quietly expired with the league in October of that year.
Since then, Orlando has hosted several pro teams in short-lived leagues. In 1985, the USFL's Washington Federals shifted to the Citrus Bowl and were renamed the Orlando Renegades. Despite a 5–13 record, the Renegades were one of the eight teams that stayed in the USFL for its projected fall season in 1986, but the league folded before any games were played that year. Next came the Orlando Thunder, a charter team in the World League of American Football in 1991 and 1992. They lost the World Bowl to the Sacramento Surge in 1992. Like all of the other the American-based teams, the franchise was dropped in the World League reorganization of 1995. Then came the Orlando Rage, a member of the infamous XFL who, like the other teams, played at the Citrus Bowl. The Rage had the XFL's best record at 8–2, but were upset in the playoffs, and the XFL folded. (The Orlando Rage name has since been revived in the semi-pro Southern States Football League). The Citrus Bowl was once slated to host some of the games for the Florida team in the never launched All American Football League beginning in 2008.
Orlando was one of the launch markets for the United Football League in 2009. Orlando's team, the Florida Tuskers, was invested in by Stuart Sternberg, principal owner of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, and played two of its three home games in the Citrus Bowl, and the third in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. They compiled a perfect 6–0 record in the Premier Season, before losing to the Las Vegas Locomotives in the championship game. Before the 2010 season, Sternberg sold his stake in the team, and the Tuskers announced they would play all home games in Orlando. Its team stake has since been purchased by Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Theismann. Before the start of the 2011, it was announced the Tuskers would be moved to Norfolk, Virginia and would be renamed the Virginia Destroyers.
The Lingerie Football League, a women's indoor football league, expanded to Orlando in 2010 with the Orlando Fantasy. They played their home games at the CFE Arena. The inaugural season had a 0–4 record under Coach Kenny McEntyre, the legendary Orlando Predators Defensive Specialist. The team folded after the 2012 season.
Minor league soccer has seen varying degrees of success in Orlando. The original Orlando Lions were formed in 1985, and played in the American Soccer League in 1988–90. A second incarnation played in the USISL from 1992–1995, winning the regular season title in 1992 and 1993. Orlando made another attempt at pro soccer with the Orlando Sundogs, who played in the USISL A-League in 1997. They finished in the middle of the pack, but suffered poor attendance, and folded after one year. In 2008, Orlando hosted the Orlando Sharks of the Major Indoor Soccer League. After poor performance their first year, plans to shift to the new National Indoor Soccer League were eventually shelved.
The Orlando Solar Bears, of the now-defunct International Hockey League, were formed in 1995 and were very successful, making the playoffs in each of its six seasons and qualifying for Turner Cup Finals twice (losing both times) before finally taking the title in 2001. When the IHL folded after the 2000–01 season, Rich DeVos chose to fold the Solar Bears because his other team, the Grand Rapids Griffins, was moving to another league which did not permit an individual to own multiple teams.
In 2002, the Atlantic Coast Hockey League was formed with Orlando hosting one of the charter franchises, the Orlando Seals, which won their Commissioner's Cup in 2003; this made Orlando the only Florida city with two hockey championships. The Seals moved to the World Hockey Association 2 in 2003, then the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2004. The City of Orlando revoked their lease for the present Amway Arena, however, forcing them to sit out the 2004–05 season. They moved to Kissimmee and became the Florida Seals in November 2004. The team resumed play in the 2005–2006 season, playing home games at the Silver Spurs Arena, making it to the President's Cup Finals before losing to Knoxville. Then on January 4, 2007, the Silver Spurs Arena abruptly booted the Seals due to unpaid rent, forcing the franchise to fold.
Orlando is also the home to the NBA Pre-Draft camp, the NBA's Orlando Summer League, the MLB Winter Meetings, the NFL Annual Meeting, and since 2005, the PSP World Cup paintball tournament. They also host the final event of the extreme sport Dew Tour, the PlayStation Pro. Orlando hosted the Major League Baseball Draft for several years until 2009, when they moved to the studios of MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey.
The Citrus Bowl hosted World Wrestling Entertainment's WrestleMania XXIV in 2008 and will host WrestleMania 33 in 2017. Amway Arena played host to WWE's Royal Rumble in 1990 and World Championship Wrestling's Bash at the Beach in 1994, as well as WWE's 2008 Hall of Fame ceremony, headlined by the induction of Ric Flair. The Amway Center hosted the 2016 Royal Rumble. Orlando also hosted television tapings for World Championship Wrestling at varying times in the 1990s, both at Disney-MGM Studios and Universal Studios Florida. Total Nonstop Action Wrestling was also based at Universal Studios for various periods.
The annual Community Effort Orlando (CEO) is the second biggest fighting game tournament of the country. Having grown exponentially since its introduction in 2010, the event got over 4,000 attendees from more than 25 different countries in 2016. Its Street Fighter tournament has been part of the Capcom Pro Tour since its start in 2014.
Many major athletes are from Orlando, such as:
- baseball players: A. J. Pierzynski and Johnny Damon
- American football players: Warren Sapp, Chris Johnson, Brandon Meriweather, Deacon Jones, Brandon Siler, Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Marshall, Blake Bortles and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
- basketball players: Amar'e Stoudemire and Darius Washington
- soccer player: Michelle Akers
Orlando is home to many notable athletes former and present, including:
- baseball players: Carlos Peña, Frank Viola, Pedro Feliz and Ken Griffey, Jr.
- basketball player: Shaquille O'Neal
- many golfers, including: Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara and Arnold Palmer. The area's golf professionals reside largely in the Isleworth and Lake Nona neighborhoods.
- "ECHL Attendance Down 2%; Ontario (CA) Reign Lead In Final Season With League", May 12, 2015.
- Simon Borg (October 25, 2010). "Investors targeting MLS club for Orlando". MLSsoccer.com. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- "MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER AWARDS EXPANSION TEAM TO ORLANDO". orlandocitysoccer.com. Orlando City Soccer Club. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
- Schlueb, Mark; David Damron (October 22, 2013). "'We are going MLS!' Pro soccer stadium is coming to Orlando". Orlando Sentinel.
- Straus, Brian (September 13, 2013). "MLS expansion team likely heading Atlanta's way". Planet Fútbol. Sports Illustrated.
- Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Predators lose their Amway Center lease, Sep. 4, 2013, http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-09-04/business/os-predators-football-default-20130904_1_orlando-predators-brett-bouchy-the-predators
- Sports Business Daily, Orlando Terminates AFL Predators' Amway Center Lease, Citing Attendance Figures, Sep. 6, 2013, http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2013/09/06/Franchises/Orlando-Preds.aspx
- Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Predators leaving downtown to play at UCF, Dec. 5, 2013, http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-12-05/news/os-orlando-predators-ucf-20131205_1_orlando-predators-jacksonville-sharks-brett-bouchy
- Richardson, Matthew (2016-06-01). "3 new things coming to Orlando's biggest video game tournament". Orlando Business Journal.
- Alphonse, Craig (2016-06-23). "Community Effort Orlando is What it Sounds Like". Red Bull.