The Tampa Bay Rowdies will reportedly be sold by businessman Bill Edwards to Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, marking an ownership change for the USL club.
Reports indicate that the Rays will buy the Rowdies from Edwards, who has owned the club since 2013. The Rowdies play their home matches in St. Petersburg’s Al Lang Stadium (previously known as Al Lang Field)–the former MLB spring training venue used by the Rays/Devils Rays from 1998-2008–and the Rays would effectively gain control of the facility as part of their purchase. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
The Tampa Bay Rays are buying the Tampa Bay Rowdies and will gain control of Al Lang Stadium, according to reports. The Rowdies have scheduled a 10:30 a.m. press conference for Tuesday morning, but did not give specifics….
Bill Edwards bought the Rowdies in 2013 and transformed Al Lang into a soccer specific field. He added 1,100 seats to the stadium, which still has the shape of a baseball stadium, including dugouts.
Under Edwards, the Rowdies had formulated an MLS expansion bid that called for Al Lang Stadium to be expanded and modernized to accommodate a higher level of professional soccer. However, the bid was not among a slate of finalists considered by the league last December, and MLS has not announced plans for its next round of expansion. The club has competed in the Division II USL––which will be rebranded as USL Championship before the 2019 season–since the 2017 season.
The Rays had proposed about a decade ago to demolish Al Lang Stadium and build a replacement for Tropicana Field on the same site, but that concept failed to come to fruition. However, their reported purchase of the Rowdies and gain of Al Lang Stadium is not expected to be part of a facility plan for the Rays–who are currently lobbying to build a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City–as a team official told the Tampa Bay Times that “the purchase would have no effect on plans in Ybor City or a possible relocation of their spring training home in Port Charlotte.” Sister site Ballpark Digest took a closer look at this angle.
As for the USL, this would further intertwine the circuit with professional baseball. Several of the USL’s clubs play in shared facilities with Minor League Baseball teams, and in some cases are controlled by the same ownership groups as their MiLB co-tenants. This would also not be the first connection between USL and MLB, as it was announced earlier this year that Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts was investing in majority ownership of a planned future USL Chicago team.
Image courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies.