Orlando Magic need a winner to be part of city’s new wave

Nov 11, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) reacts after he made the game winning shot in the last seconds of the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 11, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) reacts after he made the game winning shot in the last seconds of the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are the big brother on the block in Orlando sports. With the city continuing to grow, the Magic need a winner to take advantage.

Tracy McGrady, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer, was breaking records with the Orlando Magic. His Hall of Fame career was largely built on his four years in Orlando.

No one would know the history McGrady was doing judging by the attendance at the then-TD Waterhouse Centre. The building was empty and the Magic were in the bottom 10 for total attendance.

Arena attendance was so bad, the Magic nearly moved. Rich DeVos put the team up for sale. It seemed almost certain the team was moving to some Midwest city — St. Louis and Louisville were the favored candidates — if the city and the team could not find a way to make a new stadium. He said he had a change of heart and has owned the team ever since.

But it was a sad moment for Magic fans and the franchise.

Magic fans were not showing up for a team constantly in the Playoffs — albeit with little hope of getting out of the first round, McGrady went 5-10 in the Playoffs with the Magic and never had home court — and with an All-NBA player.

No wonder he wanted out.

Flash forward to the end of the 2017 season, the Magic are 29-53 and finishing a franchise-long fifth straight season without a Playoff berth. Yet, the Amway Center was filled to capacity for a meaningless game against the Detroit Pistons — 19,458 announced attendance, an Amway Center record.

By many accounts, even in this disastrous 2017 season, the Magic were still a success for interest. Attendance at the Amway Center was up and the team had 14 sellouts, more than any year since Dwight Howard left the team. Fan loyalty appears to be up — or at least holding steady — even as the team struggles.

Yes, there are plenty of warning signs with the team and its fan interest. In February, it was reported the Magic’s television ratings were down by more than 50 percent. That is expected with a team that is losing. Television ratings typically trend close to team success.

And, yes, there are plenty of frustrated fans who are thinking of giving up their season tickets after a frustrating season. The team’s success with ticket sales and attendance in 2016 may be an after effect of an intriguing 35-win season in 2016 and an offseason that promised a Playoff berth.

The team may not feel the negative effects of the 2017 season until it starts trying to sell tickets in 2018.

In any case, the Magic seem to be in a healthier space than they were in the early 2000s. Fans want to be engaged with the team. They want to be part of the Magic. The team just needs to give Orlando a reason to cheer, show up and be engaged.

The landscape for the Magic has changed. That much is clear from the team’s success despite its struggles.

The city of Orlando itself has changed its relationship with sports. It is a different time for the Magic than it was in the 2000s.

The 2009 Finals run unlocked a passion for sports that laid dormant and just needed a vehicle. Seven years later, the sports landscape has changed completely.

Orlando City has moved in — with its own privately financed stadium — and captured a lot of that passion. The Lions have taken advantage of a growing sport in a growing city and fit the demographics perfectly. They filled a gap and created their own thing.

For sure, Orlando City took advantage of the Magic’s dormancy in the win column to ignite a passionate fan base. It will be interesting to see how much of that transfers over when the Magic put a Playoff team on the floor again.

Mayor Buddy Dyer’s vision for the city — profiled exceedingly well in Richard Bradley of Worth’s profile of the city’s sports growth — has changed the script for the Magic in trying to find their place in the Orlando sports market. There is clearly a market just waiting for engagement and a reason to cheer.

As Bradley reports, when the Magic were hurting in the early 2000s, losing the team would have been a psychic scar on the city. The growing city was somewhat afraid to take a step forward and the Magic were the only sign of its potential growth into an independent and thriving city.

Looking back, seeing Orlando become what it has is truly amazing. From that article from Worth:

"A pessimist might have noted that Dyer didn’t have a lot of raw material to work with. There was that plan for a performing arts center—not sports, true, but still potentially part of a downtown sports and entertainment district. The Magic were pushing for a new arena and a mayor can’t afford to lose an NBA franchise, but polls showed that a healthy majority of Orlandoans opposed spending public money to build it. “That was one of the most difficult decisions I wrestled with,” recalls Teresa Jacobs, who is now the mayor of Orange County but was then on its board of commissioners. “But if we lost the Magic, that loss would have been an extraordinary devastation.”"

The fight to build the events package — the new Amway Center, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and a renovated Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) — was a difficult one. Orlando even in 2007 and 2008 was still a small city uncomfortable with its growth or trying to manage its growth heavily. The city was content as it was in many ways.

But things have changed dramatically. Orlando is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, according to Forbes. And the city seems to be looking to become a bigger player in the sports scene.

The Magic will have a role in that. They are expanding their holdings — buying the Orlando Solar Bears and building the entertainment complex across the street from the Amway Center. The Magic are a massive presence in the community and their business is only expanding.

But the team itself? That relationship with the city has changed.

The Magic are no longer the only show in town. It paved the way for everything that came to the city in the last decade. But the team has to find its place in this new landscape.

And the only way to do that is to win. That will spark passion and grow the fan base better than anything else.

The Magic are in an interesting point in their franchise history.

Entering their 29th year, there is a generation of fans who grew up becoming Magic fans. Not fans of other teams as other transplants to the city. These fans grew up with the Magic as their city’s team. They are now — and I am included in this group — making their own families and have their own disposable income to spend on season tickets.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic recognize this group. Their Fast Break Plan is hailed as a forward-thinking ticket program to try to engage young fans with a mobile-based ticketing plan at a relatively affordable price.

But this too is a point where they are going to decide their loyalties — especially with their pocketbook. And the Magic have competition in this field now.

It is the situation they created in their success and the vision Mayor Dyer fulfilled — and is still striving to improve and create anew.

The Magic are in a position where they need to win to remain relevant in their own market.

But another thing is also clear: when the Magic start winning, Orlando fans will be there for them. They are wanting desperately to be there for them. The Magic are still the big brother on the block. They are cemented and rooted in this marketplace. They are dormant — comparatively — and waiting for that team and moment to reassert themselves.

Orlando can have it all — Orlando City, the NCAA Tournament, Arnold Palmer Invitational, WrestleMania, the Magic, minor league sports, the Pro Bowl and on and on and on.

Next: Orlando Magic Daily Podcast: State of the Orlando Magic fan

The Magic winning would only unleash Magic fandom in this new Orlando sports landscape.