Orlando City — along with the NWSL’s Orlando Pride — officially has new ownership.
The Wilf family, owners also of the Minnesota Vikings, completed their purchase of Orlando’s MLS franchise, continuing a wild success story for the franchise.
After settling into MLS with former owner Flavio Augusto da Silva, the organization is on solid footing, making the playoffs for the first time last season and positioning themselves for a high playoff seed this season.
New ownership always brings about some instability. But in this case, it seems Orlando City is on stronger footing than ever before.
Part of that is certainly the backing of a successful NFL ownership group — the Vikings have made the playoffs in the NFL six times since they bought the team in 2005 including two trips to the NFC Championship game.
The other part is the support that is coming from the city’s other hometown team.
The DeVos family, who have long been friends with the Wilfs, bought a minority stake in Orlando City, tying the two premier professional sports franchises in the city together further.
The DeVos family bought a minority stake in Orlando City SC of the MLS, drawing the Orlando Magic closer to their neighbors and the sports community in the City Beautiful.
The DeVos family will not have a vote on the managing board or have a say in the day-to-day operations of the franchise. Instead, they will serve as advisors to help them integrate fully into the community and market.
The DeVos family has owned the Magic since 1990. For good and ill for the on-court product, they have been a part of this franchise and this city for a long time. Undoubtedly though, they have created a positive impact on the community with their service efforts off the court.
And the Magic are still the original sports franchise in the city, creating a huge cultural impact on the city as a whole just by their presence.
Orlando City has very much been the upstarts, capturing the city’s imagination as it has matured and sought out its own identity.
When the Lions burst onto the scene in 2010, they immediately found an audience and success as one of the best teams in USL-PRO. They filled the Citrus Bowl with more than 10,000 fans for one of the largest attendance games in minor league sports history.
They quickly jumped to MLS and Orlando suddenly had its second major sports franchise.
The run in MLS has been full of energy and excitement from an engaged fan base. The Wall, filled with the supporters from Iron Lion Firm and The Ruckus, provided one of the best environments in all of MLS. And the privately-financed Exploria Stadium was one of the best home fields in the league.
The team though struggled to find a consistent message throughout the organization and the results on the field showed. It took four coaches and six seasons before the team broke through to the playoffs.
This season, coach Oscar Pareja has helped solidify the program he hoped to build throughout the Orlando City system.
The U17 team won the MLS Next tournament, pointing to bright players in the pipeline that Orlando City would have rights to sign, and the main roster in MLS is sitting in second place in Eastern Conference with a likely high seed in the upcoming playoffs on the horizon.
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It is an exciting time to be an Orlando City fan. And new ownership, including the DeVos family’s involvement, should add to that excitement.
For the Magic’s part, they have watched Orlando City’s success from afar and have been largely suppoortive. Beyond Nikola Vucevic’s fandom for soccer and involvement attending and enjoying Orlando City games, the Magic have partnered with Orlando City on several initiatives and expressed outward support.
But certainly, the Lions and Magic have gone down different paths in competition. And the Lions certainly pushed the Magic on several new initiatives to engage fans after the Lions’ runaway success.
The Magic tried their best to try to copy Orlando City’s atmosphere with a few initiatives to engage fans. But the Magic were in the lowest period of their franchise history while Orlando City was the hoottest ticket in town.
The fan culture in the NBA is significantly different than with MLS. There may be no matching the constant noise and support in a soccer stadium during hte longer slog of a NBA season.
Fortunately for them, their seasons ran opposite each other. The Magic and Lions were obvious complements rather than competitors. The Magic begin play in the fall and end in the summer, while Orlando City’s season begins in the spring and ends in the fall.
It was always a matter of time before the two franchises drew closer together — especially as the Magic continue to develop the entertainment complex across the street from Amway Center and they have an invested interest in maximizing events downtown.
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But beyond that, the DeVos family is continuing to commit to the city and building up the sports culture in the city.
They have rightfully taken criticisim for some of their dealings with superstar players and sometimes their physical absence as owners. The Magic essentially rely on Alex Martins to be the day-to-day owner.
The team has done well for the most part to stay relevant but has only had four years of true title contention. And each of the team’s Hall-of-Fame-caliber players left on poor terms. The Magic now have struggled to rebuild themselves and find consistency.
But Orlando is continuing to invest int he community. They have long done well to integrate themselves with the community. And the Magic will likely be remembered as a key part of Orlando’s maturation.
That growth is continuing.
The Magic recently held a ceremony celebrating the topping off of their new practice facility, which will be located between Amway Center and Exploria Stadium. The new facility will give the Magic more space for their practices and workouts but also provide a space for an AdventHealth health center that will serve athletes in the Central Florida area.
The Magic hope this facility will not only optimize their training, assist in player recovery and attract free agents but also provide some benefit to the surrounding community.
That has always been what the Magic turn to organizationally. They have always been about the community with their off-court endeavors.
As they begin this rebuild organizationally, it sure feels like the Magic are continuing to invest in the community and invest in helping Orlando grow.
Helping the Wilfs get acclimated to Orlando will only make that organization stronger with the new financial backing they have. And hopefully one day soon, the Magic and Lions will be experiencing and celebrating success together.