The Tampa Bay Rowdies are moving from NASL to USL, but that's just part of the plan, if the club gets its way.
While the future of the lower divisions in the U.S. Soccer club pyramid sits in the balance, the Rowdies unveiled an aggressive bid to join Major League Soccer as a future expansion team at a presentation led by owner Bill Edwards on Tuesday night.
The expansion bid includes a reported $80 million in renovations to the club's Al Lang Stadium, which sits on the city's waterfront.
“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.
MLS, through executive vice president Dan Courtemanche, released the following statement after Tampa Bay's announcement:
“Major League Soccer has met with Bill Edwards and is aware of the 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.”
Potential, future soccer stadiums in America
MLS has tried and failed in Tampa Bay once before, with the Mutiny, one the league's original 1996 franchises, folding after the 2001 season.
Edwards, who held up a shirt with a #MLS2StPete hashtag slogan at Tuesday's event, is more optimistic about a second go-around.
"The Rowdies were the first professional sports franchise in our region," Edwards said in a statement on the club's website. "Over the last 41 years the team has undergone multiple changes, but none as dramatic as what has taken place over the last few years. The team has seen a resurgence in popularity–and the caliber of the franchise, both on and off the field rivals that of the team’s heyday. The Rowdies have made their home in St. Petersburg, which has undergone a remarkable renaissance and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. And for the team, there’s no place else we’d rather be.
"In 2015 the Rowdies unveiled the marketing slogan We Stand for Soccer, but it has become so much more than a tagline. It is our mission, our passion and why we come to work (and play) every day. We are committed to keeping and expanding the world’s game right here, and we feel strongly that joining Major League Soccer (MLS) is the next logical step. We’ve examined the criteria, retained the best stadium architects and have put together a plan to move forward."
Tampa joins a long list of cities hoping to get an MLS team as the league expands to 28. Provided Miami works out its stadium situation and David Beckham launches his team there, the league will have four places open, barring further expansion. St. Louis, Sacramento, Detroit, Nashville and Cincinnati are among those who have expressed recent public interest, while the owner of the NASL's North Carolina FC (formerly the Carolina Railhawks) has also launched a bid for a team.