Orlandocitysoccer.com recently sat down with OCSC President Phil Rawlins, with the Lions lead-man answering questions about why Rollins was chosen as the venue for the AS Roma match, how the decision putting all ticket revenue toward the Orlando City Soccer Foundation came about and more.
Q. It’s a major coup for us to get a game against a club like AS Roma, how did it come about?
A. AS Roma has agreed a multiple year sponsorship deal with the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. That means that Roma will be training and visiting Orlando over the next few years. The Christmas trip is the first of many such trips and falls in a break in their Serie A schedule. They will be here training for a few days and approached us about hosting a game for them. I have to say thanks to our friends at Disney for helping us make this happen. The game has had to be arranged at very short notice but we hope that by accommodating Roma’s request we can build a longer term relationship with them whereby games between the two clubs happen each year.
Q. Why did the club decide to play the game at Rollins College and not a larger venue?
A. As I said, the game has been arranged at very short notice and we were working with several limitations. For example, our first choice would have been our home field, the Citrus Bowl, but as you know the Citrus Bowl hosts the College Bowl games at that time of year, making the logistics and costs of using the stadium prohibitive. A second choice would have been to play at our own stadium field at the Seminole Complex, however, that facility is being used for the National Showcase of the girls ECNL League and we will be hosting several hundred teams at from December 28 -31. The feeling was our ground staff was that the stadium field would not be in good enough condition for the game, after heavy use over a four day tournament.
We therefore turned to our friends at Rollins College, who were happy to accommodate us. I want to thank Keith Buckley and his staff for helping us stage the game at such short notice. The Rollins field will be pristine as it hasn’t been used for several weeks now and will provide a great surface for Roma and City to play on. The venue has limitations but we felt it was better to hold that game, even if it means playing in front of a smaller crowd than not to have the game at all.
Q. The game is likely to create more interest than Rollins have seats, what are the plans for people who turn up on the day?
A. The game has already sold out and we know we will have fans who turn up on the day. There is a lot of standing room outside the fence at Rollins that will provide a good view of the game. The only thing we would ask for fans who want to watch the game through the fence is that they make a “donation” to our non-profit Foundation. We will have our Street Team going around the fence line with collection buckets on the day.
Q. You mentioned the Orlando City Foundation in your answer, can you tell us why the game’s proceeds will go to the Foundation and what the Foundation will do with the money?
A. Yes, all proceeds from the game will go to the Orlando City Foundation. We decided to do this because we don’t have considerable costs associated with the game, we also knew that demand would outstrip availability and didn’t want to be seen to be profiting from a rather unique situation. We are in many respects doing a favor for a visiting foreign team by agreeing to the game. Therefore, we decided with Roma, to make the game a non-profit affair and generate funds for our Foundation and the good of the greater Orlando community. Roma has also graciously agreed to make a donation to our Foundation on top of the gate money. We really appreciate that gesture from them.
All funds raised will go to our Foundation, which is working actively with a number of Children’s programs in and around Orlando. The most notable of these is their work with inner-city kids in the Parramore area, where we have adopted the New Image Youth Center as one of our primary beneficiaries. Parramore is home to the Citrus Bowl and therefore these kids are our neighbors. We are working with New Image to host soccer clinics and teach life skills to the kids, at the same time we are donating dozens of indestructible soccer balls to the Center so the kids can go on playing and enjoying the game after our clinics are complete.
Q. Why is the game not an evening kick-off?
A. Roma has to fly out of Orlando that evening, at approx 6:00 p.m., to get back to fulfill their Serie A -responsibilities. That meant our only alternative, given their tight schedule, was a lunchtime kick-off. Again we know that a smaller venue and a lunchtime kick-off are not ideal but we felt that our fans would rather us hold the game than pass up on the opportunity. It is a unique chance to play one of the top teams in Europe at very short notice and we wanted to do all that we could to get the game on, even if circumstances are not ideal. Hopefully next year we can have more time to plan with Roma and arrange a game that is more convenient for everyone.
Q. Are there plans for other exhibition games this year?
A. Most definitely, as I said the Roma game is something of a one-off. Games for us in early January (before our pre-season even begins) are a rarity. We have plans in place to have another two international games in 2013. I am hoping that we can bring a top Brazilian team to Orlando in June and to bring another top-class European team in July. As soon as we have firm details we will announce the dates and opponents. I think it is fair to say that no one in the US has consistently bought more top-class opposition to their market than we have over these three years, not even most MLS teams!