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The Case for the Orlando…Rays?

Think back to November of 2019 (if your brain can recall anything pre-Covid). Former Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams made a presentation that shook the baseball world. By “shook,” this author is referring to the bouncing around from all of the laughing.

The premise of the announcement was simple: Williams, who is largely responsible for bringing a National Basketball Association team to Orlando, wants to repeat the process and bring a Major League Baseball team to the same city. The presentation was odd, to say the least. Williams came off like a bumbling grandfather giving a preseason pep talk to a little league team. He hobbled around wearing a tee-shirt inside what looked like a Holiday Inn banquet room before revealing a logo and name that, frankly, looked fake. It was cringe, awkward, and bazaar.

There are plenty of reasons to feel genuinely bad for Williams. He seemed excited, ambitious, and proud of what he was presenting. In hindsight, maybe everyone should have shown him more respect and legitimacy given his previous success.

The website for the Orlando Dreamers still exists. Smack-dab in the middle of the home page reads the quote that got the gears turning in my head:

"Orlando has proven in the years since the Magic began playing in 1989 that it is every bit a big league sports town."

That cannot be true. Can it?

Feasibility of Big League Baseball in Orlando

If a guess was hazarded, the Magic attendance numbers would be the NBA equivalent of the Oakland Athletics or Miami Marlins. The actual attendance numbers are stunning, even to NBA fans.

Between 2010 and 2019, the Magic consistently and comfortably sat in the middle third of attendance among NBA teams, even reaching as high as ninth. Now, let’s be clear: NBA attendance numbers are fractions of MLB attendance numbers as a whole. But relative to other NBA teams…Pat Williams might be right.

An Orlando baseball team does seem a bit unrealistic though, until you realize, maybe an Orlando baseball team is not an expansion team but rather a relocation. Specifically, a relocated Tampa Bay Rays. On the day that this article was written, the Tampa Bay Times reported that MLB officially shut down the split-city idea with Montreal. This means that the Rays are likely left to stay in Florida. While the article quotes Rays executives expressing their intention to stay in Tampa Bay, it is worth nothing that Orlando is roughly a 90-minute drive from Tampa. Add this to the Rays struggles just to get a new ballpark, and, all of a sudden, the Orlando Rays does not seem too far out of the realm of reality.

Here is the thing, if you are going to put a ballpark in Orlando, you have to pull no punches: make this a Disney project. Cooperate with Disney World, and work with Disney imagineers on logos, designs, and uniforms. Rob Manfred should be salivating at the idea of connecting his sport with the the most popular tourist attraction in the Western Hemisphere and the most popular Intellectual property on the planet. Also, the ballpark must be indoors. If people want to be entertained outside in Orlando, they are going to Disney. A domed stadium is essential because it gives people a way to be entertained while staying cool instead of frying like an egg on Main Street USA in the middle of July and August. By the way, Disney hosts national travel baseball tournaments…just saying.

Can you imagine what a ballpark designed by imagineers would look like? Picture a roller coaster, vast array of food options, and other-worldly architecture. Think even deeper: imagine what the fan experience would be like with all of the adjacent entertainment and luxuries that would be built into the experience. If the thought of a Disney-designed baseball stadium does not make you giddy, you are absolutely lying to yourself.

The Tampa Bay Rays relocating to Orlando can be magical for Major League Baseball, if done right.

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Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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