Will the MLS like Sternberg in due time?
The owners of Major League Baseball’s St. Petersburg-based Tampa Bay Rays have purchased the St. Petersburg-based Tampa Bay Rowdies of the United Soccer League. Rays ownership now has two St. Petersburg-based sports businesses although The Rays owners would like to leave St. Petersburg and head across the bay to the Tampa area and eventually build a stadium in Ybor City. It is unclear if Rays’ ownership wants the soccer team to remain in the lower tier United Soccer League or move up to the first tier Major League Soccer group. Tampa Bay or more specifically St. Petersburg was one of the areas that Major League Soccer considered when owners in the soccer circuit decided to add four teams in February 2017. MLS owners have been struggling to find four cities and four ownership groups with just Nashville and Cincinnati having the stadiums and ownership money to make the cut.
Why St. Petersburg was passed over is a bit of a mystery. It seems there was a willing owner, the Rowdies Bill Edwards and a stadium available. In May, 2017 St. Petersburg residents said yes to lease the city owned Al Lang Stadium to the Tampa Bay Rowdies ownership and allow stadium to be renovate. The Rowdies’ owner Bill Edwards paid for the referendum and claimed he would put up the money, an estimated $80 million, to get the field to MLS standards. Even though St. Petersburg residents were on board and Edwards was willing to put up money, by November 2017, the MLS opportunity in St. Petersburg had passed. The league decided Nashville, Cincinnati, Detroit and Sacramento were much better options. Eleven months later, MLS owners are still shifting through proposals including revisiting plans in Phoenix and St. Louis along with other areas. St. Petersburg was not in the mix. Rays ownership has a team in an area that might interest MLS owners.