ORLANDO, Fla. >> This city already draws more tourists than any other U.S. destination. Could landing the NFL’s underperforming Pro Bowl also make Orlando a major player in the competition to attract the biggest sporting events?
Mayor Buddy Dyer is sure of it.
“It’s a big deal for us. I think it helps us as we solidify our reputation as THE sports destination in the United States,” Dyer boasted after the NFL announced Wednesday that it will move the Pro Bowl to Orlando’s Citrus Bowl venue — newly rebranded as the Camping World Stadium — for three years beginning in 2017.
Nearly a decade after taxpayers in Orlando and Orange County approved a $1 billion bond measure to upgrade sports and entertainment venues, their commitment is bearing fruit.
The bond helped pay for a $207 million upgrade to the venerable stadium, which now has more seats, 33 luxury suites, a 10,000-square-foot party deck and new video screens. It also financed construction of the Amway Center, where the NBA’s Orlando Magic play, and a downtown performing arts center to complement the area’s theme parks.
As the work neared completion, Steve Hogan set out on a mission to snare more major events. As CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, the private entity that runs the football stadium, he made the NFL one of his first stops, hoping to return preseason football to central Florida.
He came away with quite a bit more.
“This by far exceeded my expectations,” Hogan said. “I was thinking NFL preseason. I was thinking 2017 in a different way. I certainly didn’t envision the Pro Bowl was obtainable.”
Orlando seems to be on a winning streak. Copa America soccer comes to Camping World Stadium next week, and the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons will clash in a Week 3 NFL Thursday Night game this summer, an event included in a package deal for the Pro Bowl.
Dyer also notes that the city is hosting five neutral-site college football games, the first and second rounds of the 2017 men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, three college football championships — the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, the Cure Bowl and the Russell Athletic Bowl — and Wrestlemania.
“We are used to hosting big events but obviously the NFL is the premiere sport in the United States and to host their all-star game at the end of the year is very significant,” the mayor said.
It might seem that Orlando won the Pro Bowl hosting rights at a bargain, paying the NFL just $1 million in Tourist Development Tax money. But the NFL is getting a steal on leasing the 65,000-seat stadium for the game, paying the city and county just $1.75 per ticket scanned, which adds up to about $118,000.
On the other hand, the NFL gets no cut of concessions and parking revenue, and Dyer says the economic impact will be significant: with hotels booked and restaurants busy, the week leading up to Pro Bowl could generate between $60 million and $100 million, about what Orlando gets with all three college bowl games.
In Honolulu, despite declining interest in recent years, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said exposure from the 2014 Pro Bowl was worth $26.2 million and brought 15,000 visitors to the islands.
Orlando is banking on at least doubling those numbers.
“I think this will be unique as a destination because of where we are, the ease of accessibility, the time of year and how close it is to so many of the teams and their fans,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “I think when you combine all of that together it’s a big number.”