Following reports on Monday that a sale was in the works, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards announced Tuesday that he had sold the USL club and MLS expansion hopefuls to Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays for an undisclosed sum.
The Rays will also take over the team's existing contract with the City of St. Petersburg for management of Al Lang Stadium, where they will continue to play home matches. The management will transition at the conclusion of the USL season, while Rowdies VP and COO Lee Cohen will remain with the club.
"The sale is bittersweet," said Edwards in a statement released by the team. "When I purchased the Rowdies, they were on the brink of bankruptcy; today they are champions fighting for their rightful spot in the USL Playoffs. I saw the potential of the team, and what it could mean for downtown St. Petersburg. I invested my blood, sweat, tears and money, and built an amazing staff that I could not be more proud of. The Rowdies have made great strides, truly becoming a key fixture in the community. I am grateful to the staff and players who have worked so hard, as well as the many sponsors who have stuck with us over the past five years; and I am especially grateful to the fans! We have the best soccer fans in the world, and I don't want them to worry. The team is in great hands. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Last year St. Petersburg voters approved a referendum solidifying the Rowdies’ Al Lang Stadium as the future home of a potential MLS expansion team, with current Rowdies owner Bill Edwards having proposed to fund the expansion fee and an $80 million renovation of the historic waterfront stadium into a striking 18,000-capacity soccer venue, a development welcomed by MLS executives.
“I am incredibly grateful to Bill for the tremendous investment he has made in the Rowdies and Al Lang Stadium, and the passion he brought to the Tampa Bay sports community and to the soccer community globally,” said Cohen. “I have spent some time with [Rays president Matthew Silverman] and I look forward to continuing to build on the successes we have had over the last five years and ensuring a seamless transition for our amazing supporters and fans.”
Edwards “deserves much appreciation for remaking the Tampa Bay Rowdies and investing in Al Lang Stadium and our community,” said St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman in a public statement.
“Similarly, the Tampa Bay Rays' leadership has remade their baseball organization and placed considerable emphasis on community engagement. I am confident that this is a positive development for all parties, the great fans of both teams, and the City of St. Petersburg."
The Rays are also based in St. Petersburg, which sits across Tampa Bay from the city of Tampa proper, and are seeking a new ballpark to replace Tropicana Field, the domed stadium near Al Lang that they’ve called home their entire existence.
The team has proposed a new domed venue in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, but with a price tag approaching $1 billion, it’s unclear who and how the new park would be funded. A decade ago the Rays sought unsuccessfully to advance a proposal for a new baseball stadium on the site of Al Lang, which was originally a baseball facility used primarily as an MLB spring training site in the latter half of the 20th century.
A Rays official told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday the purchase would have no effect on their Ybor City plans.
"We are committed to continuing the upward trajectory that the Rowdies have been experiencing under Bill's visionary leadership," said Rays President Matt Silverman. "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 Rowdies fans, to growing soccer in St. Petersburg and throughout Tampa Bay, and of course, bringing home a championship, which could be imminent."