Add the Tampa Bay area to the ever-growing list of cities pushing to be a part of future rounds of MLS expansion.
On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rowdies unveiled their #MLS2StPete campaign along with a website, mls2stpete.com, to marshal grassroots support for expansion to Florida's Gulf Coast.
“We are committed to expanding the world’s game right here in downtown St. Petersburg, and we feel strongly that joining Major League Soccer is the next logical step,” Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards said in the club statement announcing the expansion bid. “We have met with MLS executives, including Commissioner Don Garber, and it is clear that they are looking at cities that have demonstrated their support for soccer via season ticket memberships, single game ticket sales and sponsorships.
“Major League Soccer is watched all over the world,” Edwards added. “This move will bring national and international exposure to St. Petersburg, while also boosting tourism in the area. Bringing Major League Soccer to St. Petersburg will be a great economic driver for the entire region, and will serve as another platform to unify fans on both sides of the bay."'
The plan also calls for a privately funded makeover and expansion for Al Lang Stadium, where the Rowdies – who trace their roots to the first North American Soccer League – will play next year in the United Soccer League (USL). The club had been a member of the current iteration of the NASL, playing at the 7,500-capacity stadium on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront since 2011.
“Major League Soccer has met with Bill Edwards and is aware of the Rowdies’ campaign to bring an MLS expansion team to the Tampa/St. Petersburg market,” said MLS Executive Vice President Dan Courtemanche. “There is a rich tradition of professional soccer in the area dating back more than 40 years, and we are impressed with their vision and plans for a world-class soccer stadium on the downtown waterfront in St. Petersburg. We look forward to learning more about their plans in the coming months.”