I received a wonderful email earlier this week from a fan that I met prior to the friendly match on May 2 against Brazilian side A. A. Ponte Preta. The email was full of praise for Orlando City as a club, for our fans as hosts, and for the newly refurbished Citrus Bowl as a venue. I've already shared the entirety of the email privately with a few of the team staff and executives, and I'll share some excerpts below with everyone. I hope that every fan of every visiting team leaves Orlando feeling as wonderful about Orlando City's club and fan culture as these visitors did.
The Good In His Own Words
Here's selected portions of the email I received from my friend recounting the experience he and his family had on game day.
"Despite the bad result (for us) we had an incredible experience that day. Meeting you and all the other City’s fans where a very nice and sweet experience. Everybody was very friendly, and amazingly interested in knowing more about PONTE PRETA.
The stadium itself is a great experience, as we sat at the top seats areas (cannot remember the section, but we had full access to the bar on top of the area where we were sitting).
So, a fantastic experience and congratulations to everybody involved in transforming Orlando City into one of the best soccer teams in the nation (and I can guarantee, that day is not too far)."
"As soon as you finally park your car and meet the fans outside the stadium for tail-gating and definitively, once you are inside you are in a very friendly and special atmosphere."
"This can easily become one of the best stadiums in the world, to watch any soccer match."
"PS: as for PONTE PRETA, we just started 10 days ago to play for the Brazil’s Major League (called SERIE A). We tied our first game playing out (3x3) and yesterday we won playing home (1x0). So 4 points in two games… Not bad starts as the 2 leaders have 6 points. And our 2 opponents are on the top 5 of the league."
And the Not So Good
But of course we all know Orlando isn't some Utopian paradise, and there was one issue that my Brazilian friend found vexing, annoying, and a little frustrating--especially as a first-time visitor to the Citrus Bowl and a non-native English speaker. That was, of course, the game day traffic and parking. In my opinion, this is the one aspect about game day over which the club has the least direct influence and control (parking lot attendants are contractors with Orlando Citrus Sports or the City of Orlando, and the street closures are directed and completed by the Orlando PD). So since the club has the least influence over this aspect of game day, it seems only natural that this would be the area with the most problems.
In the few days since the email from my Brazilian friend arrived, I've talked with other season ticket holders who have experienced frustrating traffic patterns, road closures, and parking issues at the Citrus Bowl, and I've decided I want to try to do something to make the situation better if I can.
How I Hope to Help
The first step is one I've already taken. As I said before I brought the email and the traffic and parking concerns to the attention of Orlando City staff and leadership. Directly I think there's only a limited amount that they can do, but they do have a good relationship with the City of Orlando and the Citrus Bowl management group, so I hope they can work with these organizations to alleviate the problems. In a few weeks we'll have the International Friendly with Mexico and Costa Rica, and that will draw a lot of first-time International visitors to the Citrus Bowl, and I hope that their experience with traffic and parking will be better than my friend shared with me.
The second step is sharing this with other Orlando City SC season ticket holders and local fans. If you have some concerns about getting to your normal lot for tailgating on match days or concerns about the way that road closures and traffic flows are directed before and after matches, email me or reach me on social media through my twitter or facebook feed. Let me know the lot you're in and the traffic or parking issue that is the most concerning to you. I'll collect that information between now and May 30, the date of the next home match against Columbus Crew.
That's when I'll implement the third step: contacting people in City Hall and at Orlando Citrus Sports with the power to do something about resolving the parking and traffic problems. We'll see if I can get them to actually do something useful and constructive instead of just giving me the run-around. Wish me luck!
Something We Can All Do
In the mean time, my friend's email has given me an idea how we, as season ticket holders who have become used to the match day traffic and parking routine, can help the situation for new fans or first-time visitors.
- Bring extra bottled water in your cooler. We're getting into the late spring/early summer stages of the season, and we can help the cops directing traffic and the attendants in the lots stay cool before the match by offering a cold bottle of water as we drive in. The longer they stay in a good mood, the more likely they are to be helpful to fans that arrive to the stadium later than you do.
- Use social media. If you tweet or post to facebook about the Orlando City matches on game day, post a quick report if there are streets closed or lots full when you first arrive in your parking lot. If fans from Lot A to Lot 11 and all points in between are putting updates out there as they arrive, it can help those fans en route know what to expect when they arrive. We'll have to come up with some catchy hashtag--maybe #OCSCtraffic will work or maybe there's a better option.
- If English is your second language, then use your mother tongue for Step 2. Post in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Vietnamese or whatever. Chances are someone else coming to the match shares your first language and could use a little friendly help.
- If a new fan or someone wearing the visiting team's kit or colors wanders into your tailgate, take a minute to explain the road closures and traffic funneling they'll find after the match. Maybe we can influence OPD and Orlando Citrus Sports to use more logic and common sense in getting traffic in and out, and maybe we can't. But at least we can prepare first timers for the madness of leaving the lots.
So I hope you enjoyed this look at Orlando City game day from the eyes of a first time International visitor, and I hope you'll consider how we as season ticket holders can help other fans navigate the most frustrating part of the day--getting into and out of the parking lots.