As if Orlando didn't have enough going on to make it the most-visited destination in the U.S., the city will be a sports fan's paradise in 2017. A full slate of marquee events will be coming to town in the new year: the NFL's Pro Bowl on Jan. 29; two early rounds of March Madness (aka the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship) on March 16 and 18; Wrestlemania 33 on April 2; and a soccer match played by two of the world's top clubs as part of the International Champions Cup (teams and details to be announced in March).
Throw in the opening of a 25,500-seat soccer stadium for the city's Major League Soccer club and the debut of a 65-acre, 100-court tennis complex, which will also serve as the new home of the U.S. Tennis Association, and it's easy to see why the city is so excited for the new year.
"I think we are just launching [as a sports mecca]," said longtime mayor Buddy Dyer. "[The recently renovated Camping World Stadium] is in its second season, the Amway Center [home to the NBA's Orlando Magic] is 6 years old, the soccer stadium and tennis facility are new this year. We have Disney's Wide World of Sports [athletic complex] and the Convention Center. Now, there's not an event that we can't host. We have premiere destination in the world and the superior facilities to match the destination."
"In 2017, Orlando will welcome a great lineup of spectacular sporting events attracting fans from all over the world, which will contribute to our annual visitation," added George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando.
Here's a closer look at the key sporting events and facilities on Orlando's calendar for 2017 and what they could mean for the city:
NFL Pro Bowl: Football, both college and pro, have found a home in Orlando. One of the first big events of the new year will be the NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium, which is fresh off hosting the Atlantic Coast Conference football title game and will host its third bowl game in two weeks, the Citrus Bowl, on New Year's Eve.
The Pro Bowl, the league's end-of-season all-star game, is moving to the Sunshine State from Honolulu, its home for all but two years since 1980.
Mayor Dyer and Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan were instrumental in winning the bid for the city. "In addition to all that Orlando offers for a great family vacation, it also offers incredible access to a large part of the NFL fan base," said Hogan, pointing out that two-thirds of the NFL teams are located east of the Mississippi and that many in the Southeast are within driving distance of Orlando.
Orlando has the game for two years, with an option for a third. And though they've only had six months to prepare, Hogan and Dyer are confident they will put on a great show and make Orlando the Pro Bowl's permanent home.
"We have experience handling big events, going back to the [soccer] World Cup in '94," Dyer pointed out.
This year, the NFL is rolling out a new Pro Bowl model that celebrates youth and high school football on every level.
"We wanted to make it about more than the 88 players being honored on the field," said Steve O'Reilly, the NFL's senior vice president of events.
A centerpiece to the Pro Bowl festivities will be a four-day fan festival at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. The event will feature championship games played by youth, high school, flag and wheelchair football teams; cheer and dance competitions and clinics; Pro Bowl practice sessions open to the public; and autograph sessions with players. Wide World will also be the site of a televised Skills Showdown, featuring a dodge ball game between the AFC and NFC stars.
March Madness: The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship returns to the Amway Center, with eight of the top teams in the nation competing in the Round of 64 on March 16 and the four winners returning for the Round of 32 on March 18. Orlando last hosted the tourney in 2014, an event that resulted in more than 14,000 hotel room nights and nearly $13 million in economic impact for the region. Prior to 2014, Orlando previously played host to the tournament in 1993, 1996, 1999 and 2004.
Wrestlemania 33: Orlando expects to see an economic boon in excess of $100 million from hosting World Wrestling Entertainment's premier event on April 2 at Camping World Stadium. The last Wrestlemania, held in Dallas last April, generated $170 million, according to a report released by the Enigma Research Corp., a figure that reflects the money spent only by visitors, not by locals who attended the event.
Orlando last hosted the event in 2008, the first time WWE held the event in a stadium rather than a basketball arena. According to the Orlando Sentinel, John Saboor, WWE's executive vice president for special events, said Orlando helped the company realize the demand was there for much larger events. "Orlando gave enormous rise to underscoring the fact that our fans wanted to consume more and more often," Saboor said.
Some 29 WWE-sponsored events are scheduled for the week leading up to Wrestlemania, from school appearances to meet-and-greets with fans. WrestleMania Axxess WWE's four-day, interactive fan festival, will take place at the Orange County Convention Center. And the Amway Center will host four big events, the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony plus three of the WWE's regular weekly broadcasts: NXT TakeOver on April 1, Monday Night Raw on April 3 and SmackDown Live on April 4 (tickets via TicketMaster). Additional information on these events will be announced in the future at www.wrestlemania.com.
"I think it's a validator of what we said in 2007 when we first passed the bill to improve venues," Dyer said. "We're bringing events to Orlando we wouldn't have been able to bring with the stadium the way it was [prior to a $206 million overhaul in 2014]."
International Champions Cup: It was announced this month that Visit Orlando, the city's tourism organization, is partnering with Relevant Sports as the exclusive U.S. Tourism Partner for the International Champions Cup, a high-profile summer soccer tournament that matches up the world's top clubs, such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich. As part of the agreement, the city will host a match in both the 2017 and 2018 tournaments at Camping World Stadium; pairings will be announced in June.
"The ICC tournament attracts the most recognized teams in soccer, and its global influence will further reinforce Orlando as a premier destination where sports fans can also visit with families and take advantage of all that a vacation here has to offer," said Visit Orlando's Aguel.
Ticket info will be available at www.internationalchampionscup.com.
Orlando City Stadium: City officials and soccer fans are very excited about the opening of the 25,500-seat facility, just two blocks from the Amway Center near downtown Orlando. Enthusiasm for this project was so great that more seats had to be added to the initial plans, and all individual season tickets for Orlando City SC's Major League Soccer matches are already sold out. Single game tickets will be available beginning in January. The stadium will also be home to the National Women's Soccer League's Orlando Pride, and Orlando City B, a member of the United Soccer League.
A rendering of the United States Tennis Association's new National Campus in Lake Nona, Fla., which was set to open Jan. 5.
USTA National Campus: On Jan. 5, the U.S. Tennis Association is moving its headquarters of 135 years from New York to its new National Campus in Lake Nona, about a 10-minute drive from Orlando Airport, making Orlando "the new home to American tennis, from pros to up-and-coming juniors," said Kurt Kamperman, chief executive of the facility. It also makes tennis the first sport to make Orlando its national headquarters.
The 100-court campus on 65 acres will be the largest tennis facility in the world, according to the USTA, and will host about 100 events in 2017 for 55,000 players "plus the three to four people each player brings with them," said Kamperman. "The facility is open to the public to play 364 days a year. No membership required."
The hope is that tennis enthusiasts visiting Orlando will soon be extending their visit by even a day to play at the National Campus, just as golfers do to play top courses. Anyone can reserve courts, coaching and other services available.
The National Campus also includes a 500-seat stadium that can be expanded to 1,000 with temporary seating. Notable upcoming events include men's and women's Pro Circuit Events, USTA National Level 2 (junior national event), College MatchDays and the Gay Lesbian Tennis Alliance World Tour Championship. Events will be updated at usta.com/nationalcampus.