On Thursday, Major League Soccer announced the list of the 10 locales that are in the running for Major League Soccer clubs 25-28. Miami which was originally slated as team 20 or 21 has slipped to 24 and from the outside view is nowhere closer to securing a team than they were in 2013 – and rumors persist that David Beckham is close to pulling the plug on the area.
Tampa Bay was named among the 10 locales by MLS on Thursday and as we discussed on December 7, the bid to bring the top soccer league in the United States and Canada to Downtown St Petersburg is a sure-fire winner. On Thursday Rowdies Chairman & CEO Bill Edwards said:
“It’s great to know that less than two weeks after announcing our #MLS2StPete campaign, Major League Soccer is acknowledging us as one of the potential expansion cities,” stated Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards. “Bringing Major League Soccer to the Tampa Bay Area by 2020 is my goal.”
The Rowdies formal bid for an MLS team was announced on August 6, but the side which currently plays in the lower division United Soccer Leagues has major advantages over many of the other nine finalists. In Bill Edwards, the Rowdies have an owner whose net worth probably meets MLS requirements unlike most of the other interested cities and clubs. The Rowdies have a solid stadium plan which is far ahead of each of the other potential new MLS markets with the possible exception of San Antonio. But unlike San Antonio, whose facility is far from the center of town, the Rowdies Al Lang Stadium is right on Tampa Bay in Downtown St Petersburg. Finally, the Tampa Bay media market is the largest single one that does not have an MLS team currently – with the league increasingly concerned about lagging TV ratings this market makes sense.
Since Miami continues to be a struggle why should Tampa Bay with an existing club, a real stadium plan and a capable owner step right in? As was written here a little over a week ago (with some revisions):
It is important to note while arguments can be made for Miami as an important MLS market, the Tampa/St Petersburg TV market is actually larger than Miami/Fort Lauderdale. It is also critical to note that between 1975 and 2016, the Tampa Bay area and Miami/Fort Lauderdale areas have had pro teams in the same soccer leagues for 25 seasons. In that period only three times did the southeast Florida team boast higher attendance than the Tampa Bay-based one. This includes four seasons in Major League Soccer (1998-2001), where Tampa Bay led Miami in attendance three of the years, and nine seasons in the NASL (1975-1983) when Tampa Bay led Miami or Fort Lauderdale every single season.
Miami is more of a global branding opportunity than a soccer-crazed market. Major League Soccer has survived for years without a Miami team, and now is thriving despite the debacle taking place under the palm trees in southern Florida. But Tampa Bay’s stadium plans – a waterfront vista in St Petersburg probably represents something far more “Florida” than anything Miami can conjure up. This is also exactly what MLS wanted David Beckham to produce – a waterfront vista, but he was unable to secure the community and political support for the project.
While the Tampa Bay market “failed” once before in MLS, that was a different time. A fear about cannibalization of the audience from Orlando which is nearby could be real, but the rivalry implications (Orlando City and the Tampa Bay Rowdies already have a robust rivalry fostered at the lower-division and US Open Cup level) probably offset those concerns. A “war on I-4” rivalry would be far bigger for MLS then an organic club like Orlando City battling a manufactured and largely plastic club like Beckham’s Miami entry promises to be.
MLS has to likely add a 24th team in 2018 or 2019 before the next round of expansion begins in 2020. With LAFC entering the league in 2018, the idea of the Tampa Bay Rowdies replacing Miami as team 24 to begin league play let’s say in 2019 should be strongly considered.