ORLANDO, Fla. — It is not often that an international superstar like Kaká finds himself with a unique soccer experience, but that will be the case Sunday when Orlando City SC open their new stadium as New York City FC pays a visit for their 2017 MLS regular season opener (Sunday, 5 pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE in Canada).
“For the first time in my career, I can inaugurate a new stadium, and this is very exciting,” the Lions captain admitted. “The facility looks great and the pitch is one of the best I ever played [on]. Knowing our supporters, I can imagine how the atmosphere will be for the fans inside the stadium — and for the fans all over the world watching it on TV.”
It promises to be a major occasion for the city of Orlando, as well as the league. Here are 10 key elements of the new stadium:
All Photos: Susan Veness
All four main stands are designed with metal deck canopy roofs that will enhance and amplify the noise of the fans beneath them. Expect this to be a loud experience, even though the 25,500 capacity is below last season’s 32,000 average at Camping World Stadium. The underside of each canopy is also exceptionally uncluttered.
“We wanted them to be as ‘clean’ as possible,” explained Brent Beardslee of project managers ICON. “From the spectator standpoint, it should be pristine as all the wiring, speakers and lights have been hidden from view.”
Unusually for Florida, where the water table is very high, the field is eight feet below ground level, designed to enhance the amphitheater aspect. This required a huge underground drainage system that took almost six months to install before full stadium construction could start. The whole drainage vault can store 36,900 gallons of water, and cope with rainfall up to 5 inches per hour. The grass on top is a variety called Latitude 36 and is specifically created for hot, wet conditions. It is a short-stemmed, locally-grown Bermuda grass also installed at Toyota Stadium for FC Dallas.
Location, Location, Location
There's been a trend in recent years for MLS stadiums to be situated in downtown areas, and Orlando’s more than fits the bill here. It is just two blocks from the Amway Center, where the NBA’s Orlando Magic play, and four from the urban center. More importantly, it is in the Parramore neighborhood, one of the city’s poorer districts, and is a key part of city plans to regenerate the area. With that in mind, the stadium will feature six panels that highlight the people and buildings of the district, as well as a weekly Farmer’s Market.
How Steep Can You Go?
In order to enhance the "bowl" aspect of the interior, the gradient of the stands is at the maximum permissible for an American stadium. The overall effect is a steep angle that keeps fans close to the action, even those in the upper levels.
“This was done to focus the steepness of the seating bowl,” ICON designer Bruce Beahm said. “It is one of the steepest allowed, at around 33 degrees, to keep fans virtually on top of the action and it also helps to reflect the noise under the canopies.”
For the first time, a major American sporting venue will have an all-standing section as part of the North Stand. This safe-standing style was pioneered in Europe and was specifically requested of architects Populous by founding owner Phil Rawlins to reflect the Stoke City stadium of his youth, the Victoria Ground.
The 3,811-capacity section is geared purely for the main supporters' groups, the Iron Lion Firm and The Ruckus, who have dubbed their end of the ground "The Wall" — an homage to Borussia Dortmund's famous Yellow Wall.
The 31 luxury suites that are sprinkled throughout the West Stand are set on two levels, like Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium. The upper level suites provide the grandstand view, while those on the lower level are only 10 rows from the field. They all feature indoor/outdoor seating with retractable windows and can seat from 14 to 28 guests.
Additional amenities include in-suite catering and concierge services, and access to the huge Club Level Lounge, with its extensive bar, high-def TVs and balcony view of the field.
This should be the most connected of any stadium in the league as it boasts a whopping 583 wireless access points to ensure free WiFi is available throughout the stands and every concourse. The team wants fans to stay connected via the new Lion Nation App.
“It is leading edge, high-density WiFi,” Beardless said. “It all had to be built in to the design, hence the back-of-house technology is very complex.”
Fans wondering about the small, gray panels attached to the handrails can reveal to friends that they are, in fact, some of the 583 wireless points.
Following the Pulse nightclub tragedy in June 2016, City pledged to install 49 rainbow-colored seats as a memorial to the 49 fatalities from America’s worst mass shooting incident. Those seats can be found in the lower level of the West Stand, in six rows.
There are eight seats each in the red, orange, yellow, green, and blue rows, and nine in the purple row, each distinguished by the signature "Orlando United" sticker and rainbow heart motif.
As the first pro sports team in Orlando to play after the tragedy, the Lions proudly display the symbols of inclusivity and equality.
The Green Machine
The stadium is fully LEED certified, which means it conforms to the highest levels of eco-friendliness and sustainability. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program asks designers and builders to use environmentally friendly methods where possible, and to be energy efficient in operation and maintenance.
“We have to go through a checklist to make the facility green and efficient,” Beahm said. “We are one of the first stadiums with all-LED sports lighting, which uses less energy and is more accurate to focus, with far less light spillage.”
While most fans won’t get to see the swanky digs that the players will inhabit for games, they can rest assured their stars are being taken care of in the best possible way. The main changing area is spacious and there are specially designed warm-up areas to ensure players can stretch and acclimate before taking the long (about 70 yards!) walk out of the tunnel onto the field.
Even the laundry room features a state-of-the-art high capacity washer-extractor by Sports Laundry Systems that both cleans and disinfects, while being energy efficient and cutting down on waste water.