A native of Stoke-on-Trent in the United Kingdom, Phil Rawlins came to Orlando in 2010 where he founded the Orlando City Soccer Club. Rawlins has spent the last 15 years in sports management following a successful career in marketing as the founder of OnTarget. He was formerly the owner and director of his hometown English Premier League team, Stoke City FC, and today is the president for the Orlando City Soccer Club.
Where Orlando caught up with Rawlins to congratulate him on his team's recent Major League Soccer (MLS) status and the new $85-million soccer stadium that broke ground last month. Go Lions!
In 2015, Orlando City Soccer will be part of MLS. What does that mean for the team and for Orlando?
When we first announced the team back in 2010, we said very clearly our goal was to bring the major leagues here. We are delighted to have met that goal. It’s a great economic opportunity to have the second major league sports team here. [The NBA's Orlando Magic is the first.]
Tell us about the new stadium and its downtown location.
Next year, we’ll return to the [newly renovated] Citrus Bowl. And during the course of ’15, we’ll be building the soccer stadium. It’s a fantastic location—right on the corner of Church Street by the Amway—and a classic stadium with 20,000 fans, 1,500 club seats and 38 luxury suites. We worked very, very hard to ensure we have a downtown location in the urban core. We’ll have the game downtown every other weekend from March to November, surrounded by bars and restaurants. The president of the MLS said it’s the best stadium location in the country.
What makes Orlando a good market for soccer?
If you look at the demographics of the sport, our core audience is the millennials who are 18-35 years old. The average age of Orlando residents is 34. We’re right in the sweet spot. It’s very much a game they take in their hearts. They grew up playing it and are part of the soccer culture.
Will the number of international visitors impact the attendance?
Yeah, very much so. Our population is obviously fairly transient. A lot of people were exposed to the game of soccer before they moved here. Many of the visitors we attract here are coming from countries who love soccer. We’ll attract visiting tourists who want to maybe get away from the parks for a day, break up their trip and do a little something different.
What do you personally like about Orlando?
I think, for me, the great discovery of Orlando is the little neighborhoods—areas like Thornton Park, College Park, Winter Park—with shops, restaurants and unique places to hang out. My advice to visitors is to be out and be adventurous a little bit, get away from the parks and visit the little native areas that we have.
Phil Rawlins' Perfect Day in Orlando
If it were a Sunday morning, I’d go down to Lake Eola and walk our dogs. I’d take in the farmers market that’s on Lake Eola every Sunday.
I’d have lunch out on the patio at Spice, which overlooks the lake and is always fun. Then I would go into Winter Park and do a little people watching and take in some of the unique shops and boutiques that are there on Park Avenue.
I’d have a glass of wine at Luma, which is one of my favorite spots to sit outside. Back downtown, I’d take in a beer on Church Street and be there for the march down to the stadium. Then, we’d watch a great match with Orlando City playing.