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Orlando awarded latest MLS expansion franchise

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The Canadian Press
11/19/2013 8:59:56 PM
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Orlando City Soccer has become Major League Soccer's next expansion franchise.

MLS commissioner Don Garber announced the franchise agreement with Orlando City on Tuesday at a community celebration near the site where a new downtown stadium will be constructed.

Cheers, chants and dancing created a carnival-like atmosphere inside a venue in the heart of Orlando's downtown for the official announcement.

It had been in the works since local officials approved a $20 million contribution last month to help the team build an $84 million, 18,000-seat stadium.

Once construction is completed, the team will begin playing in MLS in the 2015 season.

"Look, around you. You're seeing history happening right now," Orlando City Soccer owner Flavio Augusto da Silva told a crowd of a few thousand purple-clad fans. "You're all a part of it."

Orlando City becomes MLS' 21st franchise. It is the latest of four new franchises that Garber said in August that the league planned to add by 2020. New York is also getting a team in 2015.

Garber said a final number is being worked out, but that he expects Orlando City to pay the same $70 million franchise expansion fee that recent previous MLS additions have paid.

Both city and county officials previously approved the use of tourism taxes in recent months to help fund the construction costs for the new downtown soccer-specific stadium. That was the final hurdle the MLS said the city needed to clear to be awarded a team.

The team was playing in the outdated Florida Citrus Bowl, which is configured primarily as a football venue with more than 60,000 seats.

Tuesday's celebration was held at Cheyenne Saloon at Orlando's Church Street Station, which was also the location for the announcement of the city's other professional sports franchise -- the NBA's Orlando Magic -- in 1989.

After relocating the team from Texas in 2011, Orlando City president Phil Rawlins made no secret that MLS expansion was the goal, predicting that it could happen within five years.

But since its arrival, the team has developed a solid fan base playing the past three years as members of the minor league US Pro League, winning a pair of championships.

Garber said capitalizing on that energy was a big key on expanding to Orlando now.

"Orlando was ready," Garber said. "They were just aggressive with how quickly they wanted to come into the league. They were engaged with detailed negotiations with the city, the county and the state. All those pieces were coming together, and we wanted to ride that wave and capture the momentum."

Rawlins said his prognostication in 2011 wasn't about wishful thinking, but more about belief in Orlando as a market. He echoed that sentiment on Tuesday.

"When we moved here, people told me Orlando wasn't cool. They told me Orlando wasn't hip. Boy were they wrong," Rawlins said.

Rawlins improved the team's financial standing significantly in February when he added da Silva, Brazilian native and businessman, as an investor and owner. Together they then ratcheted up his overtures to the city to work out public and private stadium partnership plan.

That plan in the end calls for Orlando City to pay 50 per cent of the costs for construction of the new stadium, as well as for any cost overruns.

The city and county will contribute a portion of its tourism taxes, and in turn own and operate the facility. The team will get all ticket revenue for its events and the city will retain money from events it holds there.

As an expansion team, MLS also guarantees Orlando will host the league's all-start game within five years.

Don Garber (Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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