by JAKE NUTTING
UPDATE: A few hours after this story was published, The Tampa Bay Times posted a follow up story to their original post. Their latest story includes a claim from St Petersburg City Councilwoman Amy Foster that both Bill Edwards and Mayor Kriseman have indicated to city council members that Edwards does in fact have his eyes on MLS. You can read the full story here.
The Rowdies have not responded to a request for a comment on Councilwoman Foster’s quotes.
Recent reports from local media have sparked new interest in the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ proposal to massively expand Al Lang stadium in the near future. It was revealed this week that the club is working with St Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to place a referendum on the November ballot that would propose a long term lease for the Rowdies at Al Lang. It would be a major first step in the process toward the expansion project.
A post from the Tampa Bay Times yesterday implied that the club’s ambitious plans for the downtown waterfront venue are a sign that owner Bill Edwards could be looking to move the team from the North American Soccer League to Major League Soccer, the top division of American soccer as designated by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The Tampa Bay Times story did not directly quote anyone within the Rowdies organization, although it did cite a quote Edwards provided in 2014 that stated he had not ruled out a move to MLS. The article then raised the issue of MLS territorial rights, suggesting that any potential discussion to move the Rowdies to MLS would need involve, and presumably receive approval from, Orlando City SC. According to the Vice President of Communications for the MLS club, Leonardo Santiago, Orlando holds “full territorial and TV rights for the Tampa Bay market.”
The Unused Substitutes reached out the Rowdies front office for a comment on the article and received a response from owner Bill Edwards that reaffirms the club’s confidence in the NASL and states that attempt to connect MLS and the stadium plans is “premature.”
Here is Edwards’ full statement:
As I have previously indicated, I am excited about the Rowdies success at Al Lang Stadium. We have had fantastic crowds and sell-outs last year, and expect the same this year. We have a great team and a great coach, and intend to bring the NASL championship home to St. Petersburg. The North American Soccer League is a growing professional soccer league providing outstanding play and a great fan experience. I am confident that the NASL will continue to prosper as a dynamic professional soccer league, and the Rowdies are pleased to be part of the league.
Obviously, Mayor Kriseman has come to similar conclusions about the future of soccer in St. Petersburg. Our mutual objective is to obtain a long term lease for Al Lang Stadium in order to ensure that the Rowdies have the opportunity to grow and succeed in St. Pete – that is why Mayor Kriseman has discussed a referendum, as a referendum is required for a long term lease of the stadium.
Soccer is the world’s largest sport and the fastest growing sport in the United States. A long term home for the Rowdies at an improved and expanded Al Lang is the right thing to do for the Rowdies and their fans, the NASL, the city of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the region.
With respect to the Tampa Bay Times blog post about the MLS, that discussion is premature and not part of the Rowdies present plans.