The Tampa Bay Rowdies are ready for the big leagues, and it appears their shot will be coming sooner than later.
Major League Soccer announced last month that the Rowdies and St. Petersburg will be one of 10 cities under consideration for an expansion team.
Before that happens — representing a considerable boost for both the team and St. Petersburg — the Rowdies will need to show, among other things, a comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will provide proper support for fans and players, while also serving as a soccer destination in the community.
For that to happen, the Rowdies would first need a long-term lease with the city, which owns Al Lang Stadium.
But before realizing such an agreement, St. Petersburg voters must step in and approve the deal.
On Thursday, St. Pete City Council members discussed the steps necessary for both a referendum and a possible agreement. If all goes as planned, the vote will be held May 2 to ask voters’ permission to strike a deal to lease Al Lang to the Rowdies for up to 25 years.
Voters must also approve the lease, or some other agreement.
And if approved, a deal could be signed by mid- to late May, just time for Major League Soccer to make its decision.
The Rowdies, ready move ahead on this new phase in their history, agreed to take up all costs associated with the referendum, as well as that of getting the expansion and making improvements to Al Lang.
However, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman gave a caveat. The referendum “doesn’t commit us,” he said.
The mayor explained that what the referendum does is only give the city permission to negotiate a long-term agreement. And it all that rests on the Rowdies becoming an MLS expansion team. If the team doesn’t get the distinction, it would void the deal with St. Pete.
Councilmember Karl Nurse remains optimistic, though: “If we can make this work, it’s a big deal.”
While the Rowdies and St. Pete are one of the cities under consideration, there are others: Cincinnati, Ohio; Detroit, Nashville, Tennessee; Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; St. Louis, San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California.
Interested expansion owners must submit applications by Jan. 31.
Qualified applicants will submit documentation that focuses on the following three areas: 1) Ownership — Structure and financial information; 2) Stadium — details on proposed site, financing, approvals and support; and 3) Financial Projections, Corporate Support and Soccer Support — a business plan, projections and commitment letters for naming rights and a jersey-front sponsor, along with an overview of support from the soccer community.
Three key aspects are considered top priorities when reviewing candidates:
A committed local ownership group that has a passion for the sport, a deep belief in Major League Soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.
A market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.
A comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.