Multiple sources have told Mark J. Burns and Chris Smith of Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal that Orlando City SC owner Flávio Augusto da Silva is nearing the final stages of a sale to an unknown buyer, who is believed to be based in North America. The report did not state whether other assets such as the Orlando Pride, OCB, or Exploria Stadium would be part of the deal.
Da Silva paid a $70 million expansion fee to bring Orlando City to Major League Soccer in 2015. Prior to that, the team had been a USL franchise owned by club co-founder Phil Rawlins. The SBJ report’s sources said that OCSC has been for sale for quite a while.
The team has quietly been on and off the market since at least 2018, according to several soccer and finance sources. Finance sources have referred to the long-running sale efforts as one of the worst-kept secrets in sports, and one finance source said that, in 2018, there was a stretch when Orlando was the only major U.S. pro team available.
Obviously this would be a major event in the history of the club. On the one hand, Chief Executive Officer Alex Leitão, da Silva’s trusted man at the top, finally seems to have the correct people in place for the team to achieve success on the field for the first time since Orlando City joined MLS. A new regime could upset the balance by bringing in new people. On the other hand, da Silva has famously lamented not having the ability to spend with some of the league’s other clubs, apart from generally having one high-priced, big-name player on the squad. New ownership — should it come with deeper pockets — might be willing to spend more on…well, everything (Designated Players, facility upgrades, academy investment, etc.).
Da Silva has been reducing his ownership in the team over the years. He sold 8.63% of Orlando Sports Holdings LLC valued at nearly $500 million to Albert Friedberg in 2018 and recently sold an unknown portion of the team to Jed Kaplan, who is part owner of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and English club Swansea City. SportBusiness reported in May of 2019 ($) that da Silva was considering selling the club by 2022, when he turns 50.
Sources have characterized the soccer investment by da Silva as just that — an investment and business transaction where he could eventually turn a profit. In other words, da Silva wasn’t getting involved in the league for the long-haul.
Sales of sports teams are often complicated monstrosities, so whether or not this reported sale comes off remains to be seen. It’s a bit unusual for a publication like the SBJ to not have a name attached to a story like this and it certainly doesn’t quiet any doubts to say: “Sources cautioned that talks could still break down and a deal might not be reached.”
Of course, that is always the case with a sale of such a large and valuable asset. A lot of due diligence must be performed by both Orlando City’s board of directors and Major League Soccer before such a transaction can take place.
Despite the SBJ report saying that a sale is “nearing the final stages,” it is possible that this might take a while to unpack. As such, we will continue to monitor this story as it unfolds.