Orlando City fans will be heading into Major League Soccer with a bit of a reputation. The team clearly hopes its latest actions can help change that.
Following an incident at "friendly" with the cross-state rival Tampa Bay Rowdies that resulted in several fans being taken away by police, Orlando City has banned four fans for all of the 2015 season and 11 additional fans through the All-Star Game. In a letter to fans, Orlando City has also officially recognized The Ruckus as a supporters' group and issued a Fan Code of Conduct. The Iron Lion Firm, Orlando City's other supporters' group, apparently refused to meet with club officials and then requested not to be officially recognized. The Ruckus will be allowed to use drums, banners and other tifo. Orlando City is also creating a Fan Advisory Council that will be open to all fans.
"Orlando City greatly regrets having to take these steps but has made it clear throughout the season to the leaders of both groups that continued use of inappropriate and offensive language, antisocial and aggressive behavior, and bullying other fans will not be tolerated under any circumstances," the letter said. "Simply put, we are committed to enforcing the new Fan Code of Conduct and to ensuring a safe, fun and enjoyable experience for all fans who attend our games."
That Fan Code of Conduct was apparently put it into place prior to Orlando City's most recent home match, but had been several months in the making.
According to Orlando City's letter, the team first met with the two supporters groups on May 4 to relay expectations of behavior. A couple weeks later, Orlando City owner Phil Rawlins and head coach Adrian Heath met with the groups during a tailgate and personally relayed those messages. On June 20, the club said they met with the groups to address accusations that they had been bullying other Orlando City fans. The incident with the Rowdies happened on July 6, leading to an indefinite suspension of supporter privileges for both groups.
The suspensions of the 15 fans in question was made official after the July 12 match when four fans were ejected from an Orlando City home match for "continued use of inappropriate and offensive language." After reviewing film of the game, Orlando City issued the 11 additional partial-season bans.