We end 2016 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #8: the Tampa Bay Rowdies lobby for the MLS.
With their first major move of the fall, the Tampa Bay Rowdies made it clear that they were setting the course for the future. After much speculation, the club confirmed in October that it was changing leagues, joining the Ottawa Fury FC in a move from the NASL to the USL.
“We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017,” Rowdies chairman and CEO Bill Edwards said in a statement when the decision was announced. “I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The Rowdies’ move to the USL is a positive step toward reaching the long-term goals of the club.”
That decision alone attracted headlines, but the Rowdies were not finished making major announcements about their future. In early December, Edwards confirmed plans for a privately-financed Al Lang Stadium renovation and made it known that his sights were set on a higher league. Along with the unveiling of the renovation plans, the Rowdies also launched a campaign aimed at granting St. Petersburg an entry in the MLS.
Renovations to Al Lang Stadium, a long-time baseball spring training facility, had been in the works for a while. Earlier this year, Edwards had been in talks with St. Petersburg officials about a long-term agreement that could include renovations, but those talks were eventually shelved, only to resurface when Edwards announced his intent in December to privately fund the upgrades.
The latest announcement about the upgrades, however, became all the more intriguing when the MLS confirmed that the Tampa-St. Petersburg market is one of its 10 finalists for future expansion. Time will tell if the region ultimately finds itself in the MLS, but the Rowdies have made 2016 a year in which they laid the ground work for what they will hope is an exciting future.
Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2016 List: