The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced a partnership with the São Paulo Futebol Clube during a press conference at Al Lang Stadium Tuesday. The partnership will allow both clubs to play exhibition games against one another as well as provide key training opportunities for Rowdies players and prospective players.
“The Rowdies are developing a brand of soccer that goes beyond the borders of Tampa Bay,” said Rowdies owner Bill Edwards. “It brings two iconic brands together.”
The partnership did not materialize overnight. It’s been in the works for more than 30 years beginning in the ’70s when the two clubs did have a partnership. That was severed in the ’80s not because the two clubs were at odds, but because the original North American Soccer League went belly up.
“The relationship that we are resurrecting today would have survived,” said the Rowdies consultant for international development, Francisco Marcos.
The alliance between the Brazillian soccer club and the Tampa Bay Rowdies NASL club seems to disproportionately benefit the Rowdies. The SPFC is considered the best soccer club in Brazil and among the top in the nation. It churns out world-class players who go on to play for prestigious clubs across the globe.
The huge facility includes ample training space and staff as well as a world-class stadium fit to hold 67,000 fans. And though the popularity of soccer is on the rise in the United States, the sport is a national pastime in Latin America as big or bigger than baseball is to the United States.
SPFC President Carlos Miguel Aidar played a video showcasing his club. It depicted a nation of 18 million fans that boasted six national championships and three world championships.
It showed off expansive field training space as well as other athletic training facilities like a gym and pool where players could work on their overall fitness off the field.
The stadium itself rivaled a modern American football stadium with executive offices, restaurants and event space. An adjoining fitness club allows members to enjoy amenities like organized sports, pools and tennis courts. And it’s all set on the backdrop of the expansive São Paulo skyline.
Partnering with such an organization isn’t just a win for the Tampa Bay soccer club, it’s also a potential boost for local tourism.
“Our Latin American tourism has grown 80 percent over the last two years alone – 200 percent over the last five years,” said Visit St. Pete Clearwater’s David Downing. “Leading that charge is Brazil.”
Edwards noted the partnership is “a big deal,” but Downing jumped on that saying it’s not just a big deal, it’s a “very big deal.”
The two club presidents exchanged jerseys. A Rowdies jersey was presented to Aidar by Rowdies Captain and mid-fielder Marcelo Saragosa, who is a product of the SPFC.
Saragosa teared up as he handed the token green and yellow jersey to Aidar, thanking him in Portuguese. He pointed out he signed his first soccer contract with the SPFC 16 years ago.
Aidar presented Edwards with an SPFC jersey with the number 10 emblazoned on the back above Edwards’ name.
“Number 10 is the most important number in Brazil because it represents Pele,” Aidar said.
The gesture was meant as a huge honor.
In addition to training and exhibition game opportunities, Rowdies players and coaches will also be able to take advantage of coaching and technical staff exchange programs as well as borrowing young players from the SPFC.