As communities across the U.S. lost millions, if not billions, of economic impact from the loss of sporting events, Orlando is about to see a major boost.
Both MLS and the NBA are expected to resume their seasons at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World, and while fans will not be in attendance, the two major league events will have lasting benefits to the Orlando community, according to Jason Siegel, Greater Orlando Sports Commission president and chief executive officer.
“Event organizers are familiar with Orlando as a destination, but for the public, they’ll learn an awful lot about what a wonderful venue the Wide World of Sports is,” Siegel said. “It enhances the already great perception of the community for when we have the next conversations with FIFA as it relates to the World Cup or the bids we’ve put out for the 2022 to 2026 NCAA championship events.
“It just lends itself to an already robust portfolio of hosting marquee events,” he said.
As the home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic and MLS’s Orlando City SC, the two leagues have been able to see the city up close and personal. Orlando hosted the 2012 NBA All Star Game and the 2019 MLS All-Star Game.
Orlando saw a significant amount of lost activity from the coronavirus pandemic, with 13 events cancelled and not rescheduled, resulting in a projected economic impact loss of $5.4 million. The region postponed another seven events, with an estimated $44.1 million impact.
As the NBA led the domino effect of sports properties shutting down operations, Orlando had just finished the Arnold Palmer Invitational and had “two or three” other events in process, Siegel said.
“Essentially for three weeks it was taking apart two or three years worth of work,” he said. “Every day was a different day, no different than anyone else during this time.”
Some of the events couldn’t be saved, like NCAA tournaments. The hiatus, however, allowed the GOSC to put full resources to business development, transitioning event management employees to the effort as well.
With the significant concentration, Orlando bid on 84 future events worth $1.1 billion in estimated economic impact. There’s already 12 new event commitments worth $72.7 million and another 48 event prospects being pursued worth another $59.5 million.
Siegel and the GOSC were not part of the direct negotiations for the NBA and MLS events, which he said were between the leagues and Disney.
“It was important for us to focus on future business so that when it was safe to start to welcome events back, we had as many irons in the fire as possible,” he said.
The GOSC’s large regional footprint – it covers four counties and more than 30 venues – helped accommodate overflow from other areas that couldn’t keep their events, either because of ongoing coronavirus concerns or scheduling conflicts.
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Siegel said the Orlando community remains dedicated to building out the tourism industry, which welcomes 75 million people a year. The MLS and NBA event might not help draw new visitors in as they’re playing without fans, but it will keep the destination front of mind for millions of viewers.
“Our community is aligned,” Siegel said. “We’re committed to a safe return and when you have all the segments unified with no resistance, a community built for these kinds of opportunities and a global leader like Disney, we’re very organized and there’s confidence in our community that we can host these major events.”