by JAKE NUTTING
Bill Edwards isn’t quite done with the NASL yet.
In a report from The Guardian, the Tampa Bay Rowdies owner claims that he is set to take legal action against the NASL over its relationship with Traffic Sports, the Brazilian sports marketing company that was heavily involved in the NASL until last year’s FBI investigation into corruption in FIFA produced indictments of Traffic Sports executives Aaron Davidson and Jose Hawilla.
Edwards, who purchased the Rowdies in 2013 before Traffic’s ties to corruption came to light, now alleges that his decision to take the Rowdies from the NASL to the USL this offseason is a result of his frustration with the NASL leadership’s failure to fully dissolve the relationship with Traffic.
“I would have never joined NASL at the time had I been aware that Traffic Sports and [Davidson and Hawilla were involved with] criminal activities,” Edwards told the Guardian. “The league management at the time, including Aaron Davidson, made material misrepresentations and omissions regarding the integrity of the league and its financial hygiene.”
Traffic Sports was instrumental in the founding of the NASL back in 2009. With Davidson helping to the lead the charge, the company swayed a handful of owners to jump ship from USL and form the modern NASL. Traffic ran business operations and kept the league afloat by funding teams Minnesota, Fort Lauderdale, Carolina and Atlanta at various points.
Davidson was immediately suspended from his post as Chairman of the NASL Board of Governors following the federal indictments last year, but Traffic Sports continued to have a stake in the league as a primary holder of Class B shares. Individual team owners in the NASL hold Class A shares for day-to-day operations, while Class B shares are designated to give other investors a say in larger league affairs.
NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson noted in a call with media members Wednesday that he expects the league to provide an update on its relationship with Traffic Sports soon, declining to offer anything now to avoid distracting from Sunday’s league final.
Any positive resolution to the situation with Traffic would stand in contract to the picture Edwards is painting right now.
“I have stressed to the league the importance of separating itself from Traffic Sports and the corrupt criminal enterprise to no avail,” Edwards said. “I never wanted to leave the NASL. I fought for two years to clean it up. I couldn’t get enough cooperation from the league and at the end of the day I was basically forced out. I couldn’t in all good faith be involved in a league in the condition it is in.”
Rumors have persisted throughout Edwards’ time as owner of the Rowdies that he had a contentious relationship with Peterson and many of the league’s owners, but these remarks are the first time that he has acknowledged the animosity.
Edwards’ interview with The Guardian is also the first time that he or anyone involved with the Rowdies has offered any insight into their exit from the NASL. The team has gone dark since playing its final match of the NASL season in October. Multiple requests from The Unused Substitutes for an interview on the subject or any update on the state of next year’s roster have gone unanswered.
“You don’t spend a lot of money joining a league and then leave it and spend more money going to a different league, unless of course there are issues that you can’t resolve,” Edwards said. “I don’t believe they can clean it up. You can’t clean something that is dirty and make it clean. Unless, of course, you get rid of the dirt.”