by JAKE NUTTING
Tampa Bay Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards might have cracked open a window he wasn’t expecting to when he chose the hashtag #MLS2StPete as the social media rallying point for his push to join Major League Soccer.
Representatives from the Rowdies met with the entire St. Petersburg City Council and Mayor Rick Kriseman on Thursday about scheduling a referendum so the team can start negotiating for a long-term lease at Al Lang Stadium before committing to privately funding necessary upgrades to the venue for MLS.
In the same breath with which he expressed appreciation for the inclusion of St. Petersburg in the team’s social media campaign, council member Ed Montanari said he’d like to see the city become a permanent part of the team’s name should they move to MLS.
“One of the benefits of having a franchise in the city, especially a major league franchise, is how you can move the brand of the city forward,” Montanari said. “I don’t want to solve naming issues right now today. But I think as we move this forward, I would like to explore somehow working the name St. Petersburg into the agreement.”
Montanari is not the only council member to suggest the city keep the option of requiring a change in name if they are going to cede control, at least in part, of a valuable asset to Edwards for many years to come. Council Chairwoman Darden Rice was the first to mention the notion last month when Thursday’s meeting was scheduled and council member Steve Kornell told the Tampa Bay Business Journal he’d like to see the city become a part of the team’s logo.
Rice, who is also a longtime Rowdies season ticket holder, noted in a response to St. Petersburg resident Mike Pendleton that she was impressed with the high volume of messages she had received asking that the council leave the name as it is.
The prospect of the Tampa Bay Rowdies going to MLS and staying at Al Lang is very exciting. Yes, I floated the idea of the name change. More of a thought to debate over than trying to push an agenda. (I think Baker of course likes the idea, but I understand Edwards is not so receptive.) Personally, I prefer keeping it the name as is for many reasons, some of which you state so well. One interesting thing that has come about because Frago reported that in the Times is that we have been getting quite a bit of correspondence stating IN FAVOR to keep the team named as the Tampa Bay Rowdies. I have been impressed with the thoughtfulness and reasoning of the fans who have written in about that. Nothing ugly or argumentative or using personal invective, but very good arguments from people who love soccer, love the team, love the region, and they make very convincing points. I also fall in the camp of “Don’t fix something that is not broken.” Feel free to reach me anytime with questions or comments as this unfolds.
According to reddit user davidnwilai, council member Kornell elaborated on his reasoning for wanting to see a name change discussed.
The City of St. Petersburg is being asked to give significant assets to hopefully make this a reality. As such, it is prudent to ask what benefits are there for the City of St. Petersburg. One of the primary benefits of any professional sports franchise is the Public Relations value it brings to the area in which it is located. Not having St. Petersburg’s name anywhere associated with the team significantly reduces this value. It is a simple business decision. I believe my position is reasonable and I look forward to having further discussion.
Spurred on by the apparent interest of at least some city council members to see the Rowdies adopt St. Petersburg as part of their name, Rowdies supporters who run the organization Support Al Lang launched an online petition to keep the same name the Rowdies have had since 1975. So far the group has received over 120 signatures and a few dozen comments in favor of the name staying as it is.
Given he trademarked the names “St. Petersburg Rowdies” and “St. Pete Rowdies” shortly after he purchased the team at the end of 2013, it’s possible Bill Edwards considered the possibility of switching the name. Records show, though, that Edwards abandoned both trademarks nearly a year ago and he told the Tampa Bay Times this week he has “no interest” in making the change now.
Edwards mentioned the long tradition of the Rowdies representing the entire Tampa Bay region, but the potential harm a name change could do to the team’s MLS bid is also a likely reason or Edwards’ current stance. MLS is only interested in the Rowdies because they would get the league into the 11th largest media market in the country. That would be a harder sell if the Rowdies’s branding was suddenly only tied to St. Petersburg.