Featured Stories – Terrain for Every Game


George Diaz

By George Diaz

Imagine a village dedicated to sports, stretching miles and upon miles. The connectivity is not just geographical. It's the people. Athletes, coaches, fans who are front and center. But the real magic is in the hands of the people who made all this happen.


Take a bow, Orlando. You too, Orange, Seminole, Osceola, and Lake County. It's official now:


Sports Business Journal, a respected trade publication, has ranked Orlando as America’s Best Sports Business City for attracting and hosting events. But as noted above, it's a collective effort because of the regional partners working together seamlessly.


“Orlando’s elevation to the top spot in this year’s rankings is a testament to the vibrant collaboration between world-class venues, dedicated sports commissions and the enthusiastic community that makes Orlando a standout destination for sports business,” said Abe Madkour, publisher and executive editor at SBJ. “Congratulations to Orlando and all the cities on the list who are making such a positive business impact in their local markets and nationwide.”

This designation was the prize after decades of work from all the community partners, including the Greater Orlando Sports Commission (GO Sports), Florida Citrus Sports, The ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World, and of course those regional partners.


"I think we have absolutely grown into the best sportsdestination in this country and it's because of the great partnerships and collaboration we have..." said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. "We can host any event that the world can bring to us to Disney's Wide World of Sports, The USTA, or the various stadiums and arenas we have downtown."


In his six terms as mayor, Dyer has been one of the strongest proponents in Orlando's rise to the top. He championed the new arena (now Kia Center) and renovations to Camping World Stadium. He even made the unprecedented move to fly to WWE headquarters in Connecticut to pitch Vince McMahon on bringing WrestleMania to Orlando.


"It takes a lot of coordination and chemistry, and we are blessed to have great leadership in our community. With that, you also must have strategic vision," President and CEO of GO Sports, Jason Siegel said. "Our organization has always been asked to do three things: Drive economic impact, market the destination and provide benefits to the residents of this community. That said, we want to take it one step further.


"There are so many unsung heroes tirelessly working behind the scenes in our community. We want to provide a collaborative connection between all the stakeholders and then create a regional voice for all involved. We (GO Sports) want the additional responsibility of being the glue. Personally, I’ve worked for a number of championship teams and my favorite players are the glue guys. Guys who are great in the locker room. They pass the ball. They'd rather get the assist than score.


"I felt like our organization could be that and also play that role."


Mission accomplished.


The secret sauce isn't just the high profile events or venues or franchises. The Orlando Magic, Orlando City Soccer, Orlando Pride, UCF, and the high profile events at Camping World Stadium and the Kia Center attract the major headlines. But it's all the other "stuff" that has given rise to Orlando as a prime sports destination.


"Since opening [27 years ago], our cast members have welcomed countless coaches, athletes and fans from all around the globe to participate in more than 70 types of sports," said Adam Ball, Vice President, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Disney Water Parks. "From baseball, soccer, football to less traditional sports like paintball. Over time, we've continued to grow to adapt to the extreme popularity of youth sports."


And that's where all those community partners come into play. Not only youth sports, but adult amateur sports, and other events that may fly under the radar.


Seminole County features its signature facility, the Boombah Sports Complex, a 100-acre tournament-quality sports facility that can accommodate a variety of sports, including softball, soccer, football, baseball, lacrosse, and field hockey.

"This is a big honor and I'm glad Seminole County is part of it," said Seminole County Commissioner Jay Zembower. "It's huge for the Central Florida region with sports tourism."


In Osceola, there is the famed Silver Spurs Arena, a 8,000-seat, 33,946 square foot multi-purpose arena in Kissimmee that is home to the Silver Spurs Rodeo, a semi-annual rodeo event. And there's also connective tissue with the Orlando Magic and Orlando City Soccer.


"Think of Central Florida, and how we all work together," said Osceola County Manager Don Fisher. "We have shared sports facilities. Orlando City Soccer plays in Orlando but has their practice facility in Osceola County and the Magic have a G-League team here in Osceola County. It's fantastic."


Lake County features the 5,000 square-foot Clermont Boathouse, located on Lake Minneola, as well as a 1,000-meter and 2,000-meter course for paddle sports and rowing. There's also the 68-acre Hickory Point Recreational Facility that is home to the Mike Stone Soccer Complex, Hickory Point Beach and Florida's largest freshwater boating complex.


Downtown Orlando recently hosted the Olympic Marathon Trials for both men and women, which drew rousing reviews nationwide. An estimated 100,000 spectators lined the Olympic course that included a 2.2-mile loop through the streets of Orlando’s downtown business district, shifting to three 8-mile loops into the Milk District and back.


"This is evidence of a lot of work that has gone on behind the scenes," said Orange County Commissioner Nicole Wilson. "Collaboration, planning and investment that will then continue to build."


And that gets to the heart of the matter. Awards are wonderful, but the work never stops. It can't, because other communities are trying to play catch-up.


"We need to stay ahead of the game," Dyer said. "We have invested substantially in our sports infrastructure but we want to make sure we have the best stadiums, the best arenas, the best places for the athletes.


"A lot of these things are planned years in advance, especially the NCAA tournaments and championships. They bid those out four or five years out so we're competing for things that we'll be hosting in 2030 already."


The work continues. But first, take a bow. A well-deserved one at that.