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Team Spirit: GO Sports Rallies the Region to Attract Marquee Events

Like so many kids, Jason Siegel grew up with the dream of becoming a professional athlete. Like so many adults, he eventually realized that wasn’t going to happen. So he did the next-best thing: He found another career in sports. He majored in economics in college and turned down a finance job in New York City, instead opting to work in the Hartford Whalers National Hockey League organization for a fraction of the salary he would’ve made. He wasn’t in it for the money.

Today, as the CEO and president of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission since 2016, Siegel has been in the industry 32 years and he’s still excited every day about going to work. He heads up a team of 10 people who collaborate with organizations all over the region to bring marquee sports events to Central Florida. The goal is to help boost the economy in a region that is increasingly becoming known for sports as well as entertainment.

Rebranded in October 2018 from the Central Florida Sports Commission, the nonprofit founded 27 years ago now goes by the nickname GO Sports. Siegel explained the logic behind the change.

“The first question when you presented yourself as the Central Florida Sports Commission was, ‘Where is that? Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Lakeland?’ The second question was, ‘Who do you represent?’ Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties and the City of Orlando. We’ve eliminated the first question.”

The rebranding has done exactly what the commission and its board of directors hoped it would do, he said. “We know how strong the Orlando brand is and how recognizable it is. Obviously, we wanted our brand to reflect that positive perception of Orlando.”

Versatile Offerings

With the slogan “Terrain for every game,” GO Sports has been positioning Orlando as a place that can host nearly any kind of sporting event. One of the biggest would be World Cup Soccer by FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Orlando was one of nine U.S. cities to host the 15th FIFA World Cup in 1994 and still counts that as one of its crowning achievements.

Orlando is in the running to be one of 23 North American cities that host the 2026 event. FIFA accepted a joint bid from the U.S., Canada and Mexico in June 2018 and is narrowing down the host cities to three in Canada, three in Mexico and 10 in the U.S. Orlando, with a capacity of 68,000 at Camping World Stadium, wants to be one of them.

For now, Siegel and his team are excited about several other marquee events that are booked in Orlando:

The Monster Jam World Finals are May 10-11 at Camping World Stadium, the first venue in a new rotating schedule for the annual event.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 men ’s and women’s tennis championships May 16-25 are at the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) facility in Lake Nona for the first time.

The Major League Soccer All-Star Game takes place July 31 at Orlando City Stadium, a first since the Orlando City Lions debuted in 2015.

But the smaller events in the Orlando area also add up for big economic impact — everything from the USA Canoe & Kayak Nationals to high school lacrosse spring training to collegiate golf. Since 1993, GO Sports has hosted or co-hosted more than 1,200 events with a total economic impact exceeding $1.4 billion in direct spending.

Future Growth

Siegel recently traveled to Colorado Springs to meet with Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympics Committee. He was proud to talk about ongoing developments that will make Orlando even more appealing as a host for Olympic sports: the Orlando International Airport expansion, additions to the Orange County Convention Center, the planned Orlando Magic Sports and Entertainment District project, the downtown joint campus under construction for the University of Central Florida and Valencia College, and others.

“The list goes on and on,” Siegel said. “When you’re able to talk about our future growth with site selectors and event organizers, they just light up.”

There are opportunities Orlando couldn’t have imagined 15 years ago because of efforts by major stakeholders in the community. He cited the Orlando venues initiative, which included construction of the Amway Center arena and the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and the renovation of Camping World Stadium. He also pointed to Visit Orlando, the theme parks and other tourism partners that led to Orlando being named in 2018 the most visited destination in the U.S. with 72 million visitors annually.

“When you bid on Wrestlemania or the World Cup or a national football championship, it’s not just about the venue,” Siegel said. “It’s also about locations for a training site, it’s about hospitality at the convention center or the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center. It’s about all of our assets, along with a robust tourism community and 120,000 hotel rooms and the collaboration with the hotel and lodging association and our wonderful airport.”

The Rise of Esports

Orlando was the first region outside of Los Angeles to host the Call of Duty World League Championship at the Amway Center in 2017. Considered the Super Bowl of video game events, the fifth annual event brought in 32 four-member esports teams to compete for $1.5 million in prize money.

Since then, Full Sail University in Orlando has invested in a $6 million, 11,200-square-foot arena called “The Fortress” with room for 500 spectators. GO Sports has led a regional task force on esports that held its fourth meeting in February.

When you have access to numerous regional sports organizations and conceptualize their roles, we see our role as the glue to help bring these entities together to have important strategic conversations as a community,” Siegel said. “We’re talking about the size and scope of bandwidth and capacity we need in our facilities. We’re talking about education – at what level do we need to have conversations about curriculum so that if UCF and Valencia and Full Sail are offering certain majors, do we start to introduce that conversation at the middle school and high school levels?”

Community Focus

Ask Siegel his favorite sport, and he laughs. That would be like asking him to choose which of his four children he loves the best.

“Our No. 1 priority is for all sports entities to succeed in this community,” he said. “At the commission, we root hard for everybody. Whether it’s an established franchise like the Magic or City Soccer or a brand-new franchise like the Orlando Apollos, we want to see everyone succeed.”

He’ll always have a soft spot in his heart for hockey, he said. He spent much of his career in the National Hockey League working with the New Jersey Devils as part of a conglomerate with the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the New York Yankees baseball organization. In 2011, he was one of the investors who brought the defunct Solar Bears minor league hockey team back to life after an 11-year hiatus with the slogan “Out of hibernation.” The DeVos family bought the team in 2017 and incorporated it into the fold of the Orlando Magic organization.

He’s happy to be in Central Florida, where he and his wife, Sarah, are raising their family. When he’s not working or serving on one of numerous community boards, Siegel is the assistant coach of the Winter Park Little League Dodgers, a team that includes his 10-year-old son.

“I love our community,” Siegel said. “This is a community that treated us incredibly well when we brought the Solar Bears here in 2011. It’s a community where you can be incredibly successful because of how collaborative and inclusive we are at all levels, whether it’s public or private. There’s such a great story to tell. … If you’re here to contribute, this community will welcome you.”

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About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

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