Orlando Magic co-founder Pat Williams is launching a campaign to bring a Major League Baseball team to the city, but specifics such as ballpark plans and team ownership have yet to take shape.
A veteran sports executive who worked in Minor League Baseball long before playing an instrumental role in the launch of the Magic as an NBA expansion team in 1989, Williams is looking to build local support for a potential Orlando MLB franchise. The campaign was formally unveiled by Williams at a press conference Wednesday morning, where he presented apparel with the Orlando Dreamers branding along with a website for community residents to support the idea of an MLB team in the area and indicate interest in eventually purchasing season tickets.
Williams, however, did not discuss a site or financing plan for a new ballpark, nor he did he explain how ownership of the team would be structured. Instead, he characterized Wednesday’s announcement as the kickoff to a process to gauge local interest in a team before more concrete plans could take shape. At the press conference, Williams put a greater emphasis on Orlando as a potential expansion market for MLB, rather than a relocation spot for the Tampa Bay Rays–who are currently exploring a split-season arrangement with Montreal as a way to resolve their facility issues. In addition, he pointed to the strengths of the market, including Orlando’s status as a tourist destination and how that could boost an MLB franchise. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
Williams talked primarily about landing a future expansion team and very little about luring the Rays, noting they have eight years left on their lease at the Trop and are currently working on a “radical” plan to share games with Montreal.
Williams unveiled the name of the prospective team as the Orlando Dreamers, which seemed appropriate given the lack of details and specifics.
Williams said issues such as who would own the team and where it would be play were “not pertinent right now,” that the focus was to find out “how badly this community wants to do this.”…
But in Orlando, and central Florida, “this market is different,” Williams said. And that because of the huge influx of tourists, he said Orlando could draw 3 million fans and “could be one of best” teams in the country.
Orlando is certainly underserved by professional baseball, with facility challenges being at the root of struggles for previous Minor League Baseball teams in the market. It currently has a growing sports facilities scene–with the Magic’s Amway Center joined by Exploria Stadium, home to MLS’s Orlando City SC and NWSL’s Orlando Pride, and an upgraded Camping World Stadium that draws plenty of events–and demographics that could support a sustainable pro baseball franchise with the right ballpark plan.
However, without a specific plan for ownership or a new ballpark, the campaign to bring MLB to Orlando is very much in the early stages and has plenty of ground to cover. It is also hard to foresee MLB putting teams in both the Tampa Bay and Orlando markets, and the Rays are currently locked into a Tropicana Field lease that ends in 2027. For now, the franchise continues to explore the potential split-season arrangement, which would require overcoming various obstacles to bring to fruition.
Wednesday’s announcement from Williams signals the launch of the campaign, which will be aimed at drumming up interest among a potential fan base. Orlando, however, still has to check off plenty of items before moving into the realm of viable candidates for relocation or expansion.