Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is rejecting speculation that he’s posturing St. Pete and Al Lang Stadium as a potential home for Major League Soccer.
“With respect to the Tampa Bay Times blog post about the MLS, that discussion is premature and not part of the Rowdies present plans,” Edwards said.
The post in the Tampa Bay Times’ Bay Buzz references past statements from Edwards showing interest in attracting MLS to St. Pete. It also references Edwards’ push to expand Al Lang Stadium – a feat reported to cost $70 million including the possibility of using Pinellas County bed tax funding.
In a report this week, Rick Kriseman said he supported putting a referendum before voters to extend the Rowdies lease to make way for stadium expansion.
But in a written statement, Edwards implies the evidence supports boosting the Rowdies, not necessarily loftier ambitions.
“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,” Edwards wrote. “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.”
He continues to explain Kriseman’s support for a lease extention represents “similar conclusions about the future of soccer in St. Petersburg” and that their “mutual objective is to obtain a long-term lease … 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,” Edwards wrote.
Even if Edwards wanted to bring MLS to St. Pete, he faces a bit of trouble. The Orlando City Soccer Club has “territorial rights” to MLS in the region including the Tampa Bay area.
That means they maintain television rights and the right to scout and recruit players. Basically, MLS in St. Pete, or even a Rowdies transition into MLS, would have to be facilitated through the Orlando Soccer club.
The Tampa Bay Times verified that with the team’s vice president of Communications Leonardo Santiago.
“We have the MLS rights throughout central and north Florida, so any discussion of another franchise would have to include us and MLS,” wrote Santiago in an email to the Tampa Bay Times according to its post.