Featured Stories – Here’s to You, Orlando

Here’s to You, Orlando

America’s Best Sports Business City for Attracting and Hosting Events

George Diaz

By George Diaz

Sports at all levels have clear lines of demarcation. Everyone keeps score, and at the end of the day, winners get to celebrate.
So it was fitting that Orlando raised a glass for a champagne toast, sampled delicious hors d'oeuvres, and took several bites from a cake decorated with local mascots at the Kia Center in early April.


Here's to you Orlando -- better yet here's to all of us-- for making Orlando America’s Best Sports Business City for attracting and hosting events.


The VIP reception, featuring local leaders in the sports and tourism sector, along with a number of political dignitaries and guests, celebrated the honor that comes from the highly respected Sports Business Journal, whose team did their due diligence before naming names. They talked to 40 industry experts, dug deep into Orlando's sports history, and even counted heads in beds to come up with the Top 5.


Las Vegas was No. 2, followed by Los Angeles, Atlanta and Indianapolis.


But there was a clear reason Orlando was No. 1.


"Leadership," said Abe Madkour, executive editor of the Sports Business Journal. “The alignment and the harmony and the ability to work together to bring major sports events to this market is unparalleled."

It starts with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and a team of industry leaders, including Jason Siegel, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission (GO Sports), Alex Martins, CEO of the Orlando Magic, and so many others.
It's that community-based team effort that propelled Orlando to the top spot.


"It's a great testament to everybody who has been working hard to bring events here for so, so long," Martins said. "This has been decades in the making: Disney's Wide World of Sports, all of the youth and amateur sports, to our professional and collegiate sports, to larger events like the bowl games, NBA All-Star Weekend, the Marathon Trials. It all adds up perfectly.


"This doesn't happen overnight."


UCF coaches Johnny Dawkins and Gus Malzahn attended the reception with their wifes.

Indeed. It's a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly grind with many moveable pieces.


"We are beyond excited to be honored as the No. 1 destination in the country in attracting different sporting events," said Sharon Line Clary, Chairman of the GO Sports board of directors and Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Communications for AdventHealth. "It reflects years of work and collaboration, big visions, and relationships. This is a town that does collaboration better than any other. And to be recognized for that good work and to be a destination that everyone across the world wants to come to, that’s pretty special."


That recognition, as noted, involved a lot of puzzle pieces that came together nicely for Orlando. SBJ's metrics included building a database of 1,500 events that have taken place or been awarded since Jan. 1, 2017 through Dec. 31, 2023. Orlando's success is incremental and substantial. Example: In 2020, the NCAA awarded 17 championship events from six sports to Greater Orlando from the 2022-2026 bid cycle, the most of any destination.


But Orlando's road to No. 1 began way back when, in 1994, when Orlando beat out Miami and Tampa for the rights to host five FIFA World Cup matches at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World stadium). And it's steamrolled from there.


Orlando Magic mascot Stuff with guests at the reception.

“Orlando was the clear No. 1,” Madkour said. “It has the ability to have such a diversity of range of events. And they are doubling down on NCAA college events. Division 2. Softball. Tennis. Other sports. And those are really big volume drivers. That and also the youth sports components were the levers that made a big difference.


"It’s not all about all-star games. It’s certainly not all about Super Bowls. It’s about the range of events and filling out the inventory in the market.”


It's also worth noting that Dyer was front and center in the conversation about sporting events in Orlando. Dyer knows the intrinsic value of sports that brings people together, and has kept that focus during his six terms as Mayor. He knew Orlando had risen to become a choice destination.


Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings echoed those same sentiments.

“We have a collaborative spirit here within the metropolitan Orlando community. That couldn’t happen without the Greater Orlando Sports Commission, and the other entities that are helping make it a reality for us to be the number one sports business city. We are firing on all cylinders.”


With that in mind, the point wasn't for Siegel to chase after every single event. Orlando could now be selective, given it had so much to offer.


The area, as SBJ noted, features dozens of select venues, including the Kia Center, the Orange County Convention Center, Camping World Stadium and Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge.


Amy Saunders, daughter of Arnold Palmer, gave welcome remarks to guests.

"Being part of the sports fabric in this town is super important," said Drew Donovan, Tournament Director of the Arnold Palmer Invitational (API). "It's a light that shines on what Orlando has to offer to all spectators. We work hard to bring fans in. Not only to bring them to the API but also to explore what Orlando means. This goes to a bigger conversation for fans to say ‘hey Orlando has a lot going on and there’s a lot of great things to enjoy."


President & CEO Jason Siegel with Caesar Lopez, incoming chair for the GO Sports Board of Directors and COO/General Counsel for Orlando City SC, Orlando Pride and Inter&Co Stadium.

Orlando certainly has been on a roll to kick off 2024. In early February, the nation's elite male and female long-distance runners competed under a scenic backdrop showcasing Orlando's downtown city streets in the US. Olympic marathon trials. More than 100,000 spectators lined the city streets on the same day as another important "get" for the city: Hosting the NFL Pro Bowl Game at Camping World Stadium.
It's not game over. It only continues.


"We have a strategic plan in place as a region to continue to provide incentives that drive an appropriate return on investment along with world-class accommodations, state-of-the-art venues and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and experiences that are organic to Orlando," Siegel said. "We work diligently and collaboratively to maintain our competitive advantage."


Well done, Orlando.


As the headline in SBJ declares, "Orlando is the real deal."