Published on January 24th, 2017 | by Wil Fisackerly0
New Lakeland pro soccer team looks for college connection
The Florida Tropics Soccer Club has been attracting almost 3,000 people to each game but wants to add college students to its list of supporters.
Daniel Morillo, a junior midfielder for Florida Southern’s soccer team, had the chance to attend the first Tropics’ home game. Morillo lived in Milwaukee, Wis., where he went to indoor soccer games. Going to those soccer matches as a kid inspired him to give the Tropics a chance.
“I had that expectation and I remembered that it was always fun,” Morillo said. “That’s why I really wanted to go to the Tropics game.”
Morillo had fun watching the halftime and end of quarter games but did mention that he wasn’t used to music playing in the background during gameplay. He said that it was different compared to the soccer games he has played and watched.
Fans like Morillo do not go to indoor games for just soccer. General Manager and Vice President of Operations Andrew Ross said that going to a Tropics game means having hours of entertainment, regardless of how the team is performing. Ross said that the experience is just as important as the on-field product.
The Tropics (6-7) are one win away from having a .500 record, but fans were enjoying the home game environment before the team won four of its last five matches. Ross said that his goal is to make each game an entertainment event that happens to be a soccer game and not the other way around.
“You’re going to be entertained by the music, by the bubble soccer, by the regular soccer, by t-shirts being thrown out into the audience,” Ross said. “That’s what we’re trying to get people to understand…a great source of entertainment that’s affordable for all families.”
The one area that the organization agreed needs more work is getting the college students to come out to the games. Despite four institutions in the area and tickets selling as low as $10, the team still struggles to attract the demographic. Ross believes that they need the incentive to spend the money.
“They don’t have the large expendable budget that families have,” Ross said.
The city of Lakeland is home to plenty of college students, with almost 20,000 students attending Florida Polytechnic University, Southeastern University, Polk State College and Florida Southern College.
The team plays its home games at the Lakeland Center, west of downtown. With easy access from I-4 and Polk Parkway, the arena is in manageable driving distance for most area college students.
The organization does hire local students for careers and internships. Ross said that the team is able provide them with the experience of working in the sports industry through this manner.
The process of attracting college students may already be working. Morillo, having only attended one game, believes that the team has a huge impact on the area. He said that a local pro soccer team puts Lakeland on the map and only adds to the city’s goal to attract more young adults to the area.
“I definitely think it’s kind of like a bragging point for the city and even for Florida Southern,” Morillo said. “I go out and I see 5,000 or 6,000 people at these games. It really impresses me.”
The more students like Morillo the Tropics can energize, the easier attracting college students will be. Four home games are left in the regular season, and Ross aims to use every single one to energize the community for pro indoor soccer.