Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ pending purchase of soccer’s Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL) and subsequent gain of an Al Lang Stadium lease is not expected to affect any regular-season or spring training facility plans.
Reports on Monday revealed that the Rays are closing in on a purchase of the Rowdies from businessman Bill Edwards, who has owned the club since 2013. As part of their purchase, the Rays will effectively gain control of St. Petersburg’s Al Lang Stadium via a renewal of the current lease. Al Lang Stadium is the current home of the Rowdies and a former MLB spring training venue used by the Rays/Devil Rays from 1998-2008.
When news of the Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies surfaced, it prompted plenty of speculation if the team’s control of Al Lang Stadium would affect facility plans, specifically new ballpark discussions or a potential move of spring-training operations. However, that proposition has seemed unlikely for a few reasons. Though the Al Lang Stadium site was considered for a new ballpark about a decade ago, the Rays’ current effort to replace Tropicana Field is centered around a proposed new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City. Additionally, the Rays’ lease at Port Charlotte’s Charlotte Sports Park runs for another decade, and the club’s spring-training games have generally been a better draw there than they were in St. Petersburg.
The Rays have reportedly indicated to St. Petersburg officials that the purchase of the Rowdies is not related to any facility plans, noting that ownership’s purchase of the club is largely a way to expand its business operation. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
Rays president Brian Auld told St. Petersburg officials it was none of the above. This was just an opportunity to buy the soccer team from businessman Bill Edwards and grow their overall business.
“It’s got nothing to do with what’s going on in Ybor City, it’s got nothing to do with spring training,” City Council member Charlie Gerdes said Auld told him. “It’s purely a business decision that makes a lot of sense when you look at the relationship the teams have …
“They love downtown St. Pete and are a sports business and they think it’s a very smart business decision. He did say (it) … has nothing to do with short-term or immediate plans they have for baseball.”
It should also be noted that this is unlikely to be a sizable investment for the Rays. The exact sale price of the Rowdies has not been revealed, but the typical USL expansion team costs $1 million and, while the Rowdies are a more established club, the purchase of a Division II professional soccer team is not a major expense for a MLB ownership group. The Rowdies do not operate on a scale remotely close to an MLB team.
The Rowdies are currently playing at Al Lang Stadium on a lease that runs through November 30, 2020. Neither the Rays nor Rowdies have announced a sale thus far, and the St. Petersburg City Council will have to take the necessary step at some point to approve a reauthorization of the club’s Al Lang Stadium lease for new ownership.
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