By Travis Politakis
On Tuesday Oct. 2, the Tampa Bay Rays announced their purchase of local United Soccer League (USL) club, the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Tampa Bay Rowdies have about one game left in their season, as they are fighting for a playoff spot. The Rowdies play at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, which was once a place where the Tampa Bay Rays held their spring training. The deal was made at an undisclosed amount, and does not become official until Oct. 11.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies became a part of the USL in 1975, but eventually disbanded in 1933. However, in 2010 David Laxer, Andrew Nestor, and Hinds Howard revived the club and became a part of the National American Soccer League (NASL) as they played their games at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The following season, the Rowdies moved to St. Petersburg, and in 2012 the club won their first Soccer Bowl Title. In 2013, Bill Edwards purchased a majority stake in the club, and was dedicated to the team. Edwards was able to help fund renovations to Al Lang Stadium, making it one of the most fan friendly venues in soccer. In 2016, the team moved to the USL, and are now fighting for a playoff spot. Bill Edwards saw the sale of the team as bittersweet as he said, “When I purchased the Rowdies, they were on the brink of bankruptcy; today they are champions fighting for their rightful spot in the USL Playoffs.” Tampa Bay Rays team presidents Brian Auld and Matthew Silverman will act as vice chairmen of the Rowdies, and alongside Rowdies VP Lee Cohen, they will be directing the club. Edwards was interested in selling the team in previous years, but was finally able to pull off a deal this year to the Rays. Edwards and the Rowdies are optimistic of the future of the Rowdies and are confident that the club is in good hands. Matthew Silverman said in the introductory press conference, “Our future has never been brighter, and our commitment to the Tampa Bay area has never been stronger.”
One reason why the Rays purchased the Rowdies was for community. The club decided it made the best sense to purchase the Rowdies because of community engagement, and from a business standpoint, the package sponsorships for both teams. Many fans thought the deal had to do with the Rays building their new stadium in Ybor City, and were planning on moving their spring training back to St. Petersburg. Rays President Brian Auld denied these claims as he said to the Tampa Bay Times, “It’s got nothing to do with what’s going on in Ybor City, it’s got nothing to do with spring training, It’s purely a business decision that makes a lot of sense when you look at the relationship the teams have …”
The purchase of the Rowdies shows the Rays’ commitment to community. With attendance and stadium rankings at an all time low, fans were worried that the Rays would have to relocate out of the Tampa Area. But this deal shows they are committed to staying. Ron Cristaldi said, “If they were leaving, they likely wouldn’t buy another professional sports team in the market. It’s kind of doubling-down on their commitment.”
Soccer is slowly gaining interested in the United States, and franchises are becoming more valuable. In an article published by Forbes, Lee Igel said, “The USL has also experienced increasing franchise valuations over the past several years, with expansion fees growing nearly 50-fold during the past decade to seven million dollars.”
Travis Politakis can be reached at email@example.com