It was officially announced this morning in a press conference with the Tampa Bay Rays that Bill Edwards has sold the St Pete-based soccer club.
Edwards, a St Pete businessman who purchased the Rowdies back in 2013, said this morning that the “sale is bittersweet.” When Edwards purchased the team five years ago they were on the brink of bankruptcy. Since the acquisition, the team has flourished. Home games are estimated to now bring around 5,500 fans to downtown St Pete helping local businesses boom in the process.
The Rays will take over at the conclusion of the current season. The sale calls for the Rays to take control of the existing contract with the City of St. Petersburg for management of the landmark that is Al Lang Stadium.
At the press conference this morning, Tampa Bay Rays President, Matt Silverman said, “The Tampa Bay Rowdies are a legendary soccer team, and we look forward to extending their legacy and prominence. We are eager to get to know “Ralph’s Mob” and all the Rowdie’s fans, to growing soccer in St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay area, and bringing home a championship which could be imminent.”
The agreement of the sale also says that the Rays will keep the Rowdies at Al Lang for another five years and keep it in “soccer configuration.”
The Rowdies were the first professional sports team in the Tampa Bay area. They remain one of the most well known and well-loved brands in soccer today since their establishment back in 1975.
In 2017, the team moved to the USL (United Soccer League) and broke 19 modern-era club records including goals scored, most points, and highest total and average attendance for home games in a season.
The Rays-Al Lang history
Soccer is relatively new to the historic Al Lang Stadium. From 1998-2008, Al Lang was the Spring Training home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Rays for the franchise’s first decade of existence. It wasn’t until 2011 that the Rowdies moved in after spending three years without a full-time attendant.
In 2007, Silverman announced a plan for a $450 million new Rays ballpark on the Al Lang site. The plans called for the new stadium to be ready by the 2012 season. That fell through and was shelved a year later due to a lack of political support.
The conspiracy theories
It’s fair to say there will be plenty of theories going forward about the real reason the Rays took control of the Rowdies and their home site.
Could they be re-opening the idea of a waterfront stadium in five years? With the lease at Tropicana Field not up until 2027 that timeline might be perfect to break ground on the Al Lang site.
Could they be bringing the team back to St. Petersburg for Spring Training? Again, an understood theory. Though President Brian Auld has insisted there is no connection with the purchase and the Ybor City stadium plans – over the next five years will his tune change? Building the stadium in Ybor and bringing the team back to Al Lang for camp would keep baseball directly in the Tampa Bay area virtually year-round.
It’s safe to say nothing more will come of the sale for a while. Five years is a long time for anything else to rear it’s head or develop. It’s also safe to say the jabs at Rays ownership for not being committed to the area can be put to rest. They’ve invested time and energy into a new ballpark plan. Now they’ve invested money into one of the most recognized soccer clubs in the country. All of it right here in the Tampa/St Petersburg area.
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