In February 2016 I began working as an account executive for group sales with Orlando Pride and I was tasked with helping us break the league attendance record.
I grew up in soccer loving England, I have played and coached around the world, and finally landed in Orlando, Florida. I watched from the outside when Orlando City blew the lid off this town and the Citrus Bowl, and then continued to post fantastic attendances for the entire season. I saw that this club was doing it right.
When I began with the organization in February of 2016 I was excited for the challenge of breaking the NWSL attendance record. I also coach youth soccer and saw the anticipation in the kids as the opener drew near, however, I also thought that beating what Portland had achieved might be a bridge too far. As the weeks past and the City season had begun, I was seeing steady sales of groups eagerly awaiting the event. I got incredibly nervous about our goal even though we kept being told we were on track to break the record. I put a lot of pressure on myself to bring as many supporters as possible into the stadium.
I did not know if we had broken the record as I came to work that Saturday afternoon. I spent most of the pre-game behind the scenes, organizing and calming down the most excited people in the stadium, the player escorts! So I walked out of the tunnel, underneath the crown supporters, and saw the same view as the players. It was fantastic. There was an incredible flow of energy that was sweeping down from the stands to the field. It was getting darker, the lights were on and all I could see was a mass of people cheering and screaming for the 11 players walking onto the field to represent them and their City as the Orlando Pride. Like everyone else who worked towards breaking the attendance record I had that moment in the second half when a huge sense of pride washed over me as I took in the panoramic view of 23,403 fans with all eyes on the field. We smashed the record by 2,000 tickets.
Filling our new soccer specific stadium on Saturday April 22nd, live on national TV will be an incredible achievement. It will be even more emotional to fill our own beautiful stadium with our dedicated and raucous supporters than it was in 2016 but a full house will certainly have the same effect on the players and drive them onto victory. We have seen with Orlando City that when this stadium is rocking it gives our players that extra boost of adrenaline to get the job done. It will be louder, more intense and more intimate in 2017.
We can be Soccer City, USA. We can be the center of the US soccer universe. But we have to earn that, we have to get out and show that we deserve that title.