Rays to Orlando Gains Momentum
One of the most recent development in the future of the Tampa Bay Rays involves the city of Orlando. When Orlando Magic co-founder Pat Williams announced his intentions of lure an MLB team to Orlando many reacted with skepticism. Commentators and fans wondered how a franchise in Orlando was a viable option.
When I wrote about Pat Williams plans back in November, I explored the possible scenarios that could bring Orlando a team. The feedback I received on the article all went back to the same thing — move the Rays to Orlando. In May of 2019, I wrote the case for bringing the Rays to Orlando. The arguments were focused on the advantages that Orlando has a destination city, the large number of relocated northerners and the existing support for other professional sports franchises. Many of these same positions were taken by Pat Williams, as he revealed his plans for the Orlando Dreamers. Williams efforts drew in over 10,000 respondents who said they would commit to some kind of ticket package for a future Orlando MLB franchise.
There are still many questions about what a Rays move to Orlando would look like. When does it happen? Where do they play? And how could the Rays make an impact in the Orlando market right now? Here’s a closer look:
- The Rays to Orlando wouldn’t be immediate, but is a better alternative than Montreal. The idea of splitting a season between St. Petersberg and Montreal does not offer fans in either city a stronger connection with their team. The Rays would only expand their Central Florida fan base with a move to Orlando. The Tropicana Field lease is up in 2027. If the Rays relocate, it will likely be for the 2028 season.
- Would the Rays keep their team name? When Pat Williams proposed bringing a MLB franchise to Orlando, he proposed the Orlando Dreamers. The name itself did not receive widespread praise, but it does seem to reflect the culture of Orlando in some ways. Williams is likely thinking this name has a similar theme to the Magic. There would certainly be an argument to retain the Rays name, logos (perhaps replacing the TB with an O) and uniforms. If the day comes, putting the team name up to a vote might be a good way to engage the public and hype the new franchise’s move to Orlando.
- Where would be the best location for a ballpark? The immediate instinct would be to build a ballpark near all the other Orlando sports venues on the west side of downtown. Amway Center (Magic), Exploria Statidum (OCSC) and Camping World Stadium are all within the same general area. This might be an over saturation of sporting venues, which would also cause parking and traffic issues. The better option is to bring the team directly to the tourists and travelers. An I-Drive area ballpark seems like the best option. Staying in close proximity to the Orange County Convention Center, the hotels and theme parks would make game a more attractive option for visitors. Orlando remains the number one tourist destination in the US. This move would highlight the appeal of Orlando as a dynamic market for MLB.
- How the Rays could start playing in Orlando prior to a relocation. The Rays influence in the Orlando market should not have to wait until a potential relocation in 2028. The Rays should find a way to build a larger fan base right away. They already broadcast games on TV and radio in the Orlando market. The best immediate move would be to begin an annual weekend series in Orlando. The easiest way to make this work is to have a Disney Series at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility. Champion Stadium was Spring Training home to the Atlanta Braves until last season. MLB is doing a great job with these special location games like the Little League World Series, College World Series and this season, the Field of Dreams. The Rays hosting a Disney World Series would serve multiple purposes; to garner interest for baseball in Orlando and add another destination game(s) for MLB. The other option would be to transform the field at Camping World Stadium for a weekend series against the Yankees or Red Sox and maximize attendance.
- Move the Rays Spring Training facility to Orlando. Another angle for hyping the Rays in the Orlando market would be to make Orlando their Spring Training home. The aforementioned ESPN Wide World of Sports facility is ready to go. This would bring six weeks of Rays baseball to Orlando and generate interest among fans in the local community. It would be a great way to introduce the franchise to it’s potential future home.
There are many creative ways to keep the momentum for baseball going in the Orlando market. Pat Williams has moved the ball forward in starting a conversation with the Tampa Bay Rays.
**Photo courtesy espnwwos.com