July 9, 2022
Exploria Stadium (25,500)
Orlando City vs Inter Miami
Final Score: 1-0
During a vacation to DisneyWorld, thunderstorms played havoc on my sports schedule as rain cancelled two games on the drive down and bad luck continued to plague me here (see “Other Stuff” for more details). Thankfully, that at least got this one in as it finished well past Midnight. Located in Central Florida, Orlando is the state’s fourth-largest city with a population of 289,000 and it has been rapidly growing for decades. There’s plenty of nightlife and other entertainment for residents, but of course the area is most known for the many theme parks and attractions along International Drive that make this one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Professional soccer arrived in 2010 as Orlando City Soccer Club debuted in USL before moving to MLS in 2015. Entertaining world star Kaka was a part of their first years; however, team wins weren’t plentiful and it was not until last year when the Lions made their first playoff appearance. Exploria Stadium has been their home since 2017 and it is an exquisite stadium that I so badly wanted to love more than I did.
Prestige Ranking: 4 out of 5
Disney, Universal and other entertainment lie to the southwest of Orlando, about 15 – 30 minutes away from downtown and Exploria Stadium. The core of downtown is the Central Business District and the beautiful fountain of Lake Eola. Outside of grabbing a swan boat on the lake, the area is best visited in the evening as there is plenty of nightlife. This section is a good 10-20 minute walk from the stadium and it’s all east of I-4, which when it was built in the 1960s became a stark dividing line of racial and economic divide. On the other side is the Parramore neighborhood, site of so much unjust history that eventually led to a generation of impoverishment, neglect and crime. The recent arrival of the stadium (and nearby arena) is sparking patches of other development in the area. While gentrification can sometimes be looked at in a negative light, many efforts have been made here by the city to ensure that long-time locals aren’t priced out when it comes to their rent for housing or business. However, there is little reason for a visitor to spend any time in the area outside of attending the match as I became uncomfortable steering any length from Church Street (there is heavy police presence along that road and near the stadium, so no need to be concerned for safety). The accumulation of hookers near the Amway Center as well was off-putting.
Location Ranking: 6 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
I-4 will be the primary way to get into downtown Orlando (there’s also the East-West Expressway, though be aware that is a toll road). It’s not straight-forward to navigate to the interstate, especially with its separated express lanes as I found signage and access roads to be a little confusing downtown. Typical traffic can be expected around the weekday rush hour, while on Saturday, I didn’t really find any issues. There is no dedicated parking for the stadium and immediate lots around the facility are small and limited. That means many will use the lots and garages downtown, which is a very long walk (mine was 17 minutes from the City Commons Garage). Mass transit is also limited, but there is a free bus service (via Lymmo) with a stop on the Grapefruit Line at the stadium.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
The rectangular stadium features a mix of silver and beige design features with splashes of purple that include team logos, stadium logos and fan pictures. Interestingly, it is the ends of the stadium that go right up to the road as the sides are adjoined by lots. One of those lots is used for an impressive fan fest which includes a concert stage. You’ll also see the interesting sight of Faith Deliverance Temple as they remained steadfast in not moving despite construction of the stadium literally on their door step. Back to the building, it is generally sleek, but not overly impressive upon approach. Gate A offers the best look thanks to a few palm trees and the large Lion logo looking down from the back of the corner scoreboard.
Exterior Ranking: 6.5 out of 10
If a one-level concourse in an 18,000-seat arena is obsolete, then doing that in a 25,000-seat stadium is more than sub-optimal. There is no plaza or large open space to free up traffic, so you are left with space under the stands that goes around the stadium in classic concourse manner. Width is just not enough, even when the building is half-full and issues are exacerbated where portable carts and their snaking lines are located. Support beams and white walls frame the area with enough purple doors and coloring to let you know where you are. The pitch can be seen in spots and you’ll also find a corner bar or two in the concourse.
Concourse Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
My view of the food was tainted by a disgusting brisket sandwich that was nothing but inedible fat. I was forced to buy another $10+ meal after that. Typical stadium food is only enhanced by some Latin options including Empanadas, Enchiladas and Tacos. Alcohol is served in a variety of forms including special cocktails and some craft beers including Orange Blossom, which has a recommended City Beautiful IPA.
Food Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
This is a gorgeous soccer stadium, thanks in large part to the aesthetics provided by the purple seats that make up much of the seating bowl. One side also includes “Orlando” imprinted in gold seats across the upper-level. The enclosed stadium features a lower level of seats and then a much more expansive upper-deck, which has a fantastic slope as the 33-degree angle is the steepest allowed in construction. That leads to a great vantage point and the canopy above provides protection from the elements. While the perspective is great, there is a bit of a cheap feel as the base is set in aluminum and the seats are on the small/flimsy side (no cupholders in the upper-level as well). Row width though is good. The east sideline is suite-less and club-less (thank you!), while the other side features boxes between levels and at the top, under the roof. Plus, there is a middle club. There are two spots where the stadium does not feature double seating levels: 1) Where the corner scoreboard is located, 2) The Wall. This area behind the North End goal is the intimidating location of the supporter’s section and it also features very steep rows. The first standing-only section built in the U.S. is set on aluminum and it features handrails with cup holders. Seats throughout the stadium get right up to the touchline, enhancing the experience.
Interior Ranking: 13 out of 14
There is only one scoreboard and it is tucked into the lower corner of the stadium, which is a bad spot. Anyone sitting on the East Side or South End will struggle to see it. The board itself is fine as it is a video screen of average size and decent quality. The game is shown throughout with replays displayed when needed. A couple ribbon boards on the walls between decks help supplement score/time information when they are not used for ads.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2 out of 4
An Orlando City timeline in almost a newspaper-like fashion can be found on the outer wall of the stadium before entering. It’s a nice display, but they should keep up with it as only seven of the 12 years have stuff (though I understand the pandemic screwed things). Further down, is an excellent display on Parramore as silver panels celebrate the neighborhood heritage. Concourses have several fan murals and a cool sign on the North End saying “Welcome to the Wall”. If Orlando City wins something, we’ll see how well they display that in the coming years. Perhaps the most poignant display are the 49 rainbow-colored seats in Section 12 to honor the victims in the tragic 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting.
Displays Ranking: 3.5 out of 6
Corner seats are cheapest at $19, but that spikes to $30 through TicketMaster. Ends are $57 with fees and the sideline seats go up to $80. It’s a wide range of price and when comparing to the rest of the league, OCSC is about in the middle of the pack (though average secondary market ticket cost ranked #10). I found a seat for $27 including fees through TickPick and it seems that you should be ok for nearly all regular season matches to get a ticket in that range if you wait until day of. It will be a corner seat and there is a fair chance you can move early in the game. Parking costs are $20 to $30 near the stadium and $15 – $20 downtown. For food, a Burger basket runs $13, a Hot Dog is $7 and a Beer is $11 – $13.
Cost Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
The team drew very well while in the USL and terrific initial support led to an increase of 6,000 seats in the planned new stadium. When Exploria opened, it was mostly full and the season ticket base was (and still is) very high. However, empty sections during games became more commonplace in the last few years, including pre-pandemic. It’s a very disappointing and surprising turn, but I saw a few glimpses during my visit as to perhaps why. A stadium that is even half-full is a highly rare occurrence these days. OCSC is probably now middle of the league in terms of fan support. On the positive side, I could not believe how many fans stuck through that horrible lightning delay and stayed to watch the match. Probably a good 4,000 – 7,000 remained on hand.
Fan Support: 5.5 out of 8
The fans made for a great atmosphere as they were animated from the start (though that might be from doing nothing after a couple hours of waiting). The majority were in to every run and the match had an important feel. That juice settled a bit in the second half, but it was still decent. Exploria is loud thanks to the roof and I can’t imagine how deafening this stadium can get at full throat. Both “The Ruckus” and the “Iron Lion Firm” did their part in The Wall as they contributed tons of noise thanks to constant drumming and chants with a Latin vibe. It is a vulgar group as they constantly were directing the sixth letter of the alphabet to Miami. We also heard fun chants like “Move b****…get off the pitch” to a lightly injured player and “You suck, A*****e” after each goal kick. Full crowd participation came in the 68th Minute as one group yelled “Orlando” and the other “City”. Great atmosphere.
Atmosphere Ranking: 11 out of 14
This was not a fun experience as the event started with a downpour a few minutes before the gates opened. I was furious that this new stadium didn’t have cover just past the entrance gate because my phone was getting soaked as I had to get the QR ticket scanned to come in (blast new technology!). Of course, the douchy staff personnel just looked on, until finally telling me to go under the machine. Panicked and frustrated, at least my phone made it and wasn’t ruined. The experience set the stage for my feelings toward staff including ushers, who I found to be rude and clueless. About 20 minutes before the start of the match, lightning forced a postponement. Everyone had to go into the concourse (can’t leave to cars and come back), which has the capability of holding maybe half of the seated capacity. Thankfully, it was not near a full house, but it was a very cramped concourse and that is where we had to stand packed in….for 2 hours. I understand the unpredictability of weather, but that is no excuse for literally no announcements, updates or social media posts about where we are at with the situation. Fans just waited with no updates until 9:30 PM (an hour and 45 minutes later) when they came on the PA saying lightning is still in the area. Minor league teams do way better. Cranky and counting how much lost sleep was occurring leading up to day in the Magic Kingdom with kids, I stuck it out until the match ended at 12:20 AM and I settled back into my hotel bed at 1:30 AM. Thankfully, the last-minute own goal provided a minor consolation.
Now I have to give some credit to the club and that comes via the Orlando City Foundation. They do a lot for the city, including building more youth fields, giving free clinics and helping with community gardens. The stadium was also privately financed…..Also playing at Exploria Stadium is the Orlando Pride of the NWSL…..I love the team colors and crest. That beautiful lion head was designed by a season ticket holder.
After waiting all that time, the game for a while was not worth it. There was a lack of chances and runs until Orlando started to pick things up and have the run of play later in the second half. Still, we saw just two shots on goal between each side. It looked like this would finish as a depressing 0-0 draw until in the 92nd minute, Damian Lowe had a poor attempted clearance of a cross and knocked the ball under the crossbar of his own net as a stunned crowd and home side celebrated the gift win.