The Rowdies are making the case they belong in the MLS and it is time St. Pete joins them
Voters in St. Petersburg need to do the right thing and vote yes on May 2nd to allow the city to negotiate a long-term lease with the Tampa Bay Rowdies for a new waterfront stadium at the site of Al Lang Field. The deal is contingent on the Rowdies being part of the Major League Soccer expansion and the new 18,000 seat showcase facility would be built by team owner Bill Edwards.
The Rowdies have done a very good job of impressing executives of the MLS and that is key since 11 other cities are in the mix for four to six spots to come over the next three years. I think that Sacramento and San Antonio are likely to get a league invitation.
The Rowdies are likely a lock if they get the go ahead from St. Petersburg that is a key part of the bid. With the city’s support for the Rowdies they would check all of the key blocks that the MLS are looking at when they award a franchise.
It begins with an owner who can pay the $125 to $150 million dollars for a franchise fee to the league and that is a check. Next is the stadium with the $80 million coming from the team to craft what would be one of the most beautiful stadiums in all of sports. That would be a very strong check two.
The third check is attendance with business community support and at present the Rowdies average 5,500 fans per game at Al Lang and that is good start but could always be a bit better. The business community is on board but they too must understand what a great addition an MLS team would be to downtown St. Pete.
Check four is the TV market both from an English as well as a Hispanic viewpoint. The Tampa-St. Petersburg market is 13th largest market in the United States and growing. Plus, they are 19th in the amount of Hispanic viewers and again that number is expanding. Then you factor in Orlando who is 19th and 17th respectively. That would give the MLS two Top 20 television markets in English and Hispanic viewers.
Something they could help build their next TV contract on in 2020.
As someone who attended the first ever Tampa Bay Rowdies game at the old “Sombrero,” back in 1976 this team has a sports history that needs to be rewarded. The Rowdies were the first professional sports team in the Bay area and they were embraced by a soccer crazy area.
The Rowdies were a team that really represented the Bay Area by playing their outdoor season at Tampa Stadium and their indoor season at the Bayfront Center.
I had the pleasure of serving as the producer and member of the broadcast crew for the Rowdies from 1977 – 1981 for WTOG. This team won the hearts of the region and had a national following. They were along with the New York Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders, one of the most respected franchises in the old North American Soccer League.
If Mr. Edwards can convince the Major League Soccer that the Bay Area’s soccer history makes them worthy to join the league, then fans in the region are in for a treat. Fans may also find that getting a ticket to the new 18,000 seat venue might be tough.
The reason that the MLS has been a hit in most every city they have expanded to, is due in large part to playing in venues built to fit their teams and the cities they represent.
Most of the stadiums are built to seat between 20 and 30 thousand fans. This means the sight lines are great, the crowds are loud and the fan experience is outstanding.
The Rowdies would have a close in state rival as the Orlando City SC has been a wonderful success story. They play their games in a sold out 25,000 seat Orlando City Stadium.
This is not Tropicana Field situation, a stadium that should have never been built and remains a topic of angry conversations almost 40 years after it was finished. This is a low risk and high reward deal, one that the business community should rush to support.
I would like to join the Tampa Bay Times and other soccer fans throughout the area and suggest that you live in St. Petersburg, please vote YES on the May 2 referendum question.