San Diego, Tampa Bay Make Their MLS Cases

San Diego MLS Stadium rendering

In distinct and very unique ways on Monday, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and San Diego officials made their expansion cases on the MLS

San Diego has had considerable momentum in the last few weeks, and there are some signs that the city’s pitch is resonating with the league. Commissioner Don Garber attended a friendly between the U.S. Men’s National Team and Serbia at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, during which he offered complimentary words about San Diego and Mike Stone, who is leading the investment group charged with running the expansion bid.

Garber was also present on Monday afternoon, when the city publicly presented its case on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum. During that presentation, it was announced that Juan Carlos Rodriguez, the president of Univision Deportes, is joining San Diego’s investment group. Rodriguez, whose network holds Spanish-language media rights for the MLS and U.S. soccer matches, is seen as a key addition to San Diego’s effort. More from the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Rodriguez said he has made it known to the other owners that he would like a “Mexican accent” to the San Diego franchise. He envisions Mexican fans around the country turning out for MLS games in away cities to cheer San Diego’s team, as well as cross-border rivalry matches with the Xolos.

“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for San Diego,” Rodriguez said.

The Mexican connection in San Diego is clearly appealing to MLS. Garber cited the large number of people who travel back and forth across the border.

“What we think about when we look at growing professional soccer in America, it is a close partnership with Mexico,” Garber said. “The sport is very popular down there. There are all sorts of opportunities down there to do things. It’s not a coincidence that one of (San Diego’s) investors is president of Univsion (sports).”

Al Lang Stadium renovation rendering

Meanwhile, Rowdies chairman and CEO Bill Edwards made his case in unique fashion on Monday, as he and a contingent of team supporters traveled to the MLS headquarters in New York.

In December, Edwards announced his proposal for joining the MLS, which includes a privately-financed renovation to Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg that will bring it to league standards. This concept has certainly brought more attention to the Tampa Bay area, and was a key selling point for the MLS, which added the Rowdies to a list of 10 expansion candidates that was released in December.

With one day to spare in submitting his bid, Edwards delivered his application to the league office in New York. With several of the team’s backers present, Edwards strove to show deputy commissioner Mark Abbott that the team’s bid is receiving broad local support. More from The Tampa Bay Times:

And though there was no expectation of meeting with league officials, the crew sat down with league deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, who took in a video presentation touting the bid.

“We had a great time,” Edwards said. “We met for about an hour, had a lot of fun. (Abbott) was very hospitable and when it was over, he even applauded.”

The Rowdies have competition in the form of 10 other cities. Two more expansion towns will be added in the future but Edwards wants to get in on the first go.

Inside a package labeled “We Brought Our Pitch To You” was a video showing renderings of Edwards’ proposed expansion of Al Lang into an 18,000-seat facility, were it to gain MLS designation. The Rowdies unveiled the plans last month along with the campaign #MLS2StPete.

“We had about a month to put this together and I’m very proud of my people to come up with such a presentation,” he said. “I think they appreciated the hard work we put into it.”

Applications for the next two rounds are due today. Both San Diego and Tampa Bay are looking to enter the league in 2020.

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August Publications