By Joel Poiley
ORLANDO – As University of Central Florida (UCF) fans whipped themselves into a frenzy in front of the ESPN College GameDay crew here Saturday, Orlando Apollos vice president of marketing and strategic communications Mike Harris pictured the excitement the Apollos will offer when they begin play in the Alliance of American Football’s inaugural season against Atlanta on Feb. 9.
Like UCF, the Apollos will play their home games at Spectrum Stadium. Harris is taking aim to fill the 44,000-seat venue for the Steve Spurrier-led Apollos.
“We want the stadium sold out for game number one so we can show people just how much football means to this city,” Harris said. “The energy that the UCF fans have is tremendous. They call it The Bounce House because they make the place bounce all night long. That’s one of the things we want to bring to our games. They’ll be exciting. We’ll have the head ball coach with his Fun-and-Gun fast-paced style of offense we think the fans will enjoy.”
Orlando’s sales team has been aggressive, with events like Saturday’s presence scheduled throughout November to give out schedules, swag and information to drum up interest in the new team and league. The effort has paid off in the two weeks tickets have been on sale, but there’s more work to be done.
Harris and his staff, soaking in the scene around unbeaten UCF’s 38-13 victory over Cincinnati, know the interest is there.
“Even today, we had people coming up to our table saying they heard about us and want to know more about the league and were buying season tickets,” Harris said. “People love football here, that’s why there are all the college bowl games here, the Pro Bowl did well here … it’s a football hotbed.
“People are excited we’re in town. We’re trying to engage the community and develop a one-on-one relationship where our fans are connected to the Apollos. Just like our ad says, football season doesn’t have to end after the Super Bowl.”
That mantra, which The Alliance co-founder and CEO Charlie Ebersol has trumpeted since introducing The Alliance in March, is resonating with fans. Give them quality play on the field and they will come. The UCF game Saturday was televised nationally, and similarly, the Apollos will open on the prime-time stage, on CBS.
Austin Bosch, 25, attended the University of Mississippi and now lives in St. Petersburg. He said he gladly will make the trip to Orlando to watch pro football in the spring.
“For sure I’d come over here because I love football,” Bosch said. “It’s such a cool thing because there were so many players that we loved watching in college that maybe didn’t make it in such a tight roster spot in the NFL, and this give us a second chance to watch them again.”
His buddy, 27-year-old Wade Russom, works in downtown Orlando and said he likes how The Alliance fills the football void after the NFL season.
“Plus, it’s great to see the head ball coach coaching again,” Russom said. “I love that guy and his style of play.”
Bo Armstrong, an Orlando business owner, said he is interested in purchasing season tickets to help support the area’s newest professional sports franchise.
“With us being a local business, we do everything we can to support local events,” said Armstrong, 37. “So it’s more than just the name or that’s it’s a professional team, it’s tied to the local community. We are absolutely about being part of that.
“I like having another professional sports team in Orlando, which I think is overdue. And with them having a big name in Coach Spurrier and some big-name players, I’m very interested.”
For players like Apollos offensive lineman Chris Martin, the fan interest is greatly appreciated.
“People I don’t know are coming up to me and telling me they already have their season tickets and can’t wait for the games because they remember me from UCF,” Martin said. “It’s really encouraging to know that people still want to see me play. They don’t know my journey and what I’ve gone through, but they still want to watch me. That means so much.”
Martin also promised fans they will be impressed with the caliber of play.
“Bouncing around the NFL like I did, I know so many guys that are on a lot of The Alliance teams, and they are great players who for many reasons just didn’t get their shot in the NFL,” Martin said. “Maybe a team only carried six linemen and they were the seventh; someone gets hurt and goes to the practice squad and that knocks you off the team. I know this league will be competitive, and it’s going to be fun.”