Pat Williams is re-starting the push for a major-league team in Orlando with a dream.
The Orlando Dreamers, to be specific, which is the proposed name for the potential team the longtime Magic basketball team exec is hoping to land, more likely, at least for now, through expansion than relocation of, say, a troubled team on the west end of I-4.
Williams’ grand announcement Wednesday was designed to get Orlando-area fans to first show their interest in having a team, and then committing to season tickets, via the orlandodreamers.com website. He also unveiled a logo, cap, T-shirt and other branded items.
What Williams, 79, didn’t have were specifics on key issues such as who would own the team or where it would play.
“That’s not pertinent right now,’’ Williams said. “What’s pertinent is finding out how badly this community wants to do this.’’
Asked specifically about trying to lure the Rays, Williams took basically a hands-off approach, noting they eight years left on their use agreement at the Trop and were currently exploring a "radical'' plan to share games with Montreal.
“That has never been done. Can it happen? Well, they want to see if it could happen,’’ Williams said. “But in the meantime, our job with any team like that or any potential owner is to make this package here so attractive and so, how about this word, luscious that people say, “We’ve got to get there.’ ’’
Williams acknowledged the failed history of Orlando’s baseball effort, how it was passed over twice in the ‘90s for expansion teams, as MLB instead awarded teams to play in south Florida and Tampa Bay.
“With nothing against St. Pete and nothing against Miami, they have worked and they have tried, (but) it hasn’t worked for them,’’ he said.
Annual attendance numbers prove that, as the Rays and Marlins ranked 29th and 30th in the majors again this season, with a combined total of less than 2 million.
Those struggles would seem to make it unlikely MLB would add a third team in the state, especially one less than two hours from where the Rays play. Plus, there would be the matter of TV territorial rights, with the Rays and Marlins due compensation.
But Williams said he is convinced a team in Orlando would be a huge success, that "this market is different." And that based on the growing population, huge influx of tourists (soon to be 80 million annually) and ranking as the No. 18 TV market, an Orlando team could draw 3 million plus fans a year and be “one of the best” franchises in the majors.
In a statement released Wednesday night, the Rays said: "We are proud of our strong fan support in Orlando, and we’re pleased to see their enthusiasm about Major League Baseball.”
Williams retired earlier this year from the Magic and planned to stay out of sports, but said seeing a published list of candidates for future MLB expansion that included Montreal, Vancouver, Portland, Las Vegas, Nashville and Charlotte but not Orlando got him riled up and he decided to push the idea to get a sense of the interest and get the local effort started.
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“We’re a bigger media market than all those six,’’ Williams said. “I think our resume here is much stronger than those other six markets, much stronger, and getting stronger all the time. ... We just have to get ready.''
Speaking during a press conference at a sports pub near an Orlando golf course, Williams said he had not yet talked to MLB officials but called Wednesday morning and left a "thorough" message for commissioner Rob Manfred about their plans.
Williams said action on finding a site and building a stadium won’t proceed until they get a better sense of the community interest, but that it would probably take six years from start to finish.
“We’re going to ride this out and see what the response is,’’ Williams said. “When we get to the point where we say, “Boy oh boy, we are absolutely convinced this community is in full bore and they really want us to do this and they’re really excited about doing it,” we’re going to keep plowing right ahead.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.