If Orlando desires to compete, Tenting World Stadium wants work

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This column is not intended to disparage Camping World Stadium.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank the 86-year-old building for many amazing memories over the years, starting with attending some of the classic rock Super Bowls of the day with the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Hall & Oates, and Bob Seger.

Thank you also for all the great bowl games and other sporting and entertainment events like FIFA World Cup games, NFL Pro Bowls and college football games at neutral venues like Florida-Miami three years ago.

And who will ever forget when 62,000 people packed the pitch for Orlando City’s first MLS game? Or when additional temporary seating was added and a record 75,000 fans from all 50 states crammed into the venue for two WrestleManias, resulting in nearly $200 million in economic impact? And I’m not a monster truck fan, but I have to admit, it was quite a spectacle to witness 60,000 fans go nuts when I first saw the announcement of Grave Digger at the Monster Jam World Finals .

Recently, Camping World has hosted hugely successful concerts by Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney. And just last month, more than 60,000 local fans and tourists flocked to the stadium for a Florida Cup match between Chelsea and Arsenal – two famous English Premier League football teams.

“We should all celebrate and be excited about what we’ve been able to enjoy and earn for this community since we renovated the 45,000-seat basement in 2014,” said Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports – the organization responsible for hosting of Orlando’s two biggest bowl games, the annual Florida Classic rivalry between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, and other neutral college football games like next year’s opener between LSU and Florida State. “We can with the resources we have and we’ve proven it.”

True, but the question is: Can Orlando keep doing it and proving it? With the stadium we currently have, can we get the kind of world-class events we so desperately want?

Make no mistake, it was a blow to this city’s ego when we were recently bypassed by 11 other US cities to host World Cup games in 2026. Orlando is said to have submitted one of the most attractive World Cup bids to FIFA, but to be honest, our stadium couldn’t keep up with the other US cities and their NFL stadiums. While Orlando was the number one destination for fans when we hosted World Cup games in 1994, our international reputation for hospitality was not enough to surpass a stadium with limited premium seating.

Another blow came two weeks ago when Hard Rock Stadium in Miami was chosen to host the 2026 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. While we like to consider ourselves the college football capital of the country due to our three bowl games and our location in the middle of a college football fanatic state, we’ve never hosted the national championship game, while Tampa and Miami have both.

“My mind is, ‘What’s next for Orlando and how do we take the next step?’ ‘ Hogan says. “Are we continuing to invest in our stadium to protect the business we have and pursue the business we want? I think that conversation is happening and I think it will continue as we see the health of the economy improving on the reverse side of COVID.”

A history lesson for the newcomers to the area: Back in 2006, the city and county announced that Camping World would undergo a $175 million renovation project as part of a package of events that would use $480 million in tourist tax dollars for the Construction of the Amway Center and $375 million would go toward building the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The Amway Center was built first and opened in 2010, while the renovation of the stadium and the performing arts center were only completed in 2014.

Of the three venues, I don’t think anyone would argue that taking into account the source of funding (the tourism development tax), Camping World Stadium made the least amount of money, yet still made the greatest return. Many of the events at the stadium draw tourists from across the state and country. Just think of it as a kind of convention center for sports and entertainment.

The question is: will city and county officials consider spending more money so we can attract the best sporting and entertainment events? Do not get me wrong; Camping World Stadium is adequate and functional for the things we currently use it for – bowl games, concerts, soccer friendlies, etc. But if we want to get into the game for bigger and better events then some improvements are needed.

So the unsightly 30-year-old upper decks with their outdated grandstand seats need to be replaced. And as the competition heats up with the recent opening of palatial new NFL stadiums in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, there needs to be more premium seating and luxury suites. And if we really want to be competitive, we should consider a Hard Rock Stadium style partial canopy over the seating areas to protect fans from rain and sun.

These aren’t improvements that cost billions of dollars, but they will cost hundreds of millions. Whether to allocate and spend the money is something Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings will likely discuss in the near future.

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“When you have a destination that is among the best in the world for hosting sporting and entertainment events in neutral locations, you want a competitive building,” says Hogan. “We have the hotels, the hospitality, the attractions and the weather. We tick every box that events like the World Cup, College Football Playoffs, and games at neutral venues like Army-Navy are looking for. We don’t need a $4 billion stadium in Orlando to win. We have the luxury of competing with a lot less.”

The fact is, Camping World Stadium has been doing more with less for decades, and perhaps that’s the problem.

It is a victim of its own success.

It may not have been that long since we last refurbished the old stadium, but time flies in the stadium competition business.

As Bob Seger once sang at one of those old rock Super Bowls:

“Isn’t it funny how the night moves?”

Email me at [email protected] Call me on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6am to 9:30am on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2