'We want you here': Ron DeSantis welcomes pro sports teams to train, play in Florida

Iliana Limon Romero and Steven Lemongello
Orlando Sentinel

Orlando, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis wants all professional sports teams to come to Florida during the coronavirus pandemic, offering a haven for those in other parts of the country under stay-at-home orders.

“All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing,” DeSantis said during a news conference Wednesday. “Now, we’re not going to necessarily have fans, but there’s been reports that Major League Soccer may want to have their season in Orlando. Do it. We want to have you here.

Ron DeSantis

“We want to have the basketball practicing again. We would love to have Major League Baseball. And I think the message is that our people are starved to have some of this back in their lives. It’s an important part of people’s lives. So we want to be able to do that. I think we can certainly do it in a way that’s been safe.”

DeSantis has been an early proponent of professional sports resuming play in Florida, treating WWE as an essential business so it could tape WrestleMania and other bouts at its performance space in Orlando.

More: Arizona governor OKs return of pro sports without fans

Golf courses have always been excluded from his stay-at-home orders.

Soon after WrestleMania was completed, DeSantis urged UFC, NASCAR and others to feel welcome in Florida without fans and under coronavirus safety protocols.

Those protocols include temperature checks, heavy use of hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations, social distancing and, in many cases, coronavirus testing.

DeSantis has long contended that Floridians have access to all the tests they need, leaving no conflict if pro sports teams do heavy testing to allow the staging of events in the state.

He praised UFC for hosting fights in Jacksonville and lauded upcoming charity golf events featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and others. He suggested Florida was unique in its ability to stage these events.

“All these professional sports are going to be welcome in Florida. That may not be the case in every other state in this country, as we’ve seen,” DeSantis said. “And so what I would tell commissioners of leagues is, ‘If you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida because we think it’s important and we know that it can be done safely.’”

While the NBA and MLS are beginning individual workouts around the country, youth sports seem much further away from resuming group competition.

However, the Orange County Convention Center is slated to host a major AAU volleyball tournament in June, and DeSantis suggested other youth events may follow.

“We’re also going to be looking at some of the stuff with our youth sports as well,” he said. “It’s very important and we need to figure out a way forward there. So we’ll … hopefully have some announcements on that very soon.”