The iconic Tampa Bay Rowdies feel they are ready to join Major League Soccer
The Tampa Bay Rowdies have one the most recognizable brands in the history of soccer in the United States. Earlier this month, the Rowdies unveiled their #MLS2StPete campaign along with a website, mls2stpete.com, to build grassroots support for expansion to the Major League Soccer, to the soccer rich Tampa Bay area.
The league acknowledged ownership groups from 10 markets have publicly expressed interest in securing an MLS expansion team: The Tampa Bay Rowdies, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, and San Diego.
In the heyday of the old version of the North American Soccer League from their inception in 1975 till the leagues down grading in the early 1980’s Tampa Bay went to three Soccer Bowls and won three Indoor titles before the glory days were gone.
Now and it is about time, there is a very strong and creditable to have the Tampa Bay Rowdies join the Major League Soccer, the top level of soccer played in this country. The timing might just be right because a Miami franchise, that has been approved is having a number of problems. It an effort spearheaded by former soccer super star David Beckham, on very shaky ground at the moment.
Despite the leagues wanting Beckham’s name and team as part of the league he simply can’t get either ownership partners in place nor can he find stadium funding.
That could open the door to Tampa Bay to join the MLS as soon as the 2018 season or at the latest the 2020 campaign. At present, Major League Soccer has announced plans to expand to 28 teams, with the fee for new entrants jumping from $10 million to $150 million in a decade.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber set a deadline of Jan. 31, 2017 for interested potential owners or ownership groups to apply. So, in a little over a year from today if the Tampa Bay Rowdies want to be in the MLS they will have file the papers, have their financing in place and the stadium renovation at Al Lang set.
MLS is constantly expanding with Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC taking the competition to 22 teams when the new season begins in March.
One sticking point could be Orlando City SC, the popular MLS franchise, has the exclusive MLS rights over Tampa Bay. While, any discussion of a new MLS franchise would have to include Orlando City, it not clear they would attempt at blocking the Rowdies entrance to the league.
The league has had two franchises in the same city so while Orlando City could be involved in possible conversations. Their goal is to get a piece of what is likely to be an entry fee of between $100 and $150 million.
If all goes well Tampa Bay could have a great rivalry with Orlando FC and restore the Rowdies to the top U. S. soccer league, where frankly they belong. The first step in the process has begun as Tampa Bay is leaving the North American Soccer League, the countries third division and moving up to the United Soccer League where they will play in 2017.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies push to join the MLS is being driven by their owner Bill Edwards, who carries the impressive title of Chairman, Chief Executive Officer & Governor. The move to the MLS includes, a reported $80 million in renovations to the club’s Al Lang Stadium, which overlooks the bay and would be one of the most beautiful stadiums in the entire MLS.
“We are committed to expanding the world’s game right here in downtown St. Petersburg, and we feel strongly that joining Major League Soccer is the next logical step,” Edwards said in a club statement. “We have met with MLS executives, including Commissioner Don Garber, and it is clear that they are looking at cities that have demonstrated their support for soccer via season ticket memberships, single game ticket sales and sponsorships.”
Edwards’ focus, for the moment is the all-important process of building up the team’s season ticket numbers. The Tampa Bay Rowdies ranked third in the NASL this year with an average attendance of 5,878, but only had 3,600 season ticket holders. In a joint effort to boost season ticket sales and spread support of their MLS push, the Rowdies are asking fans to utilize the hashtag #MLS2StPete on social media.
“Major League Soccer is watched all over the world,” Edwards added. “This move will bring national and international exposure to St. Petersburg, while also boosting tourism in the area. Bringing Major League Soccer to St. Petersburg will be a great economic driver for the entire region, and will serve as another platform to unify fans on both sides of the bay.”‘
The reaction thus far from the MLS has been muted as one might expect since there has not been any formal application for membership in the league filed.
“Major League Soccer has met with Bill Edwards and is aware of the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ campaign to bring an MLS expansion team to the Tampa/St. Petersburg market. There is a rich tradition of professional soccer in the area dating back more than 40 years, and we are impressed with their vision and plans for a world-class soccer stadium on the downtown waterfront in St. Petersburg. We look forward to learning more about their plans in the coming months.”
The video in this story came from the Tampa Bay Rowdies