The Tampa Bay Rays will reportedly purchase soccer’s Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL), a move that would effectively give them control of Al Lang Stadium.
The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that the Rays will buy the Rowdies from Bill Edwards, a businessman that has owned the club since 2013. The Rowdies play their games 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. The main baseball grandstand still stands (as shown above; soccer-specific seating has been added in the old left-field area.
Al Lang Stadium has remained standing and active since the Rays moved spring training to Port Charlotte, serving primarily as a soccer venue for the Rowdies. The Rays had a proposal 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. This does not appear to be part of a facilities’ plan for the Rays, however, as a team official has stated that the news has no effect on future plans for spring training or a new regular-season ballpark. The Rays’ lease runs for another decade at Charlotte Sports Park, and let’s not forget: the Rays didn’t draw very well when they held spring training at Al Lang. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
The Rays recently released plans to build a stadium in Ybor City if they can secure financing. They previously made an unsuccessful bid for Al Lang’s waterfront site.
A Rays official told the Times on Monday the purchase would have no effect on plans in Ybor City or a possible relocation of their spring training home in Port Charlotte.
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 USL, a Division II professional soccer league, has become more intertwined with baseball in recent years, thanks to the number of clubs playing in shared facilities with MiLB teams. There are existing connections to MLB as well, 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.