Voters in St. Petersburg overwhelmingly approved Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards’ ballot initiative for an $80 million expansion of Al Lang Stadium on Tuesday, moving ahead plans for a potential MLS expansion bid. Edwards has promised to fund both the expansion to 18,000 seats and the $150 million expansion fee, so really there was nothing for voters to worry abou—
The referendum, which won approval with 87 percent of the vote, will allow city officials to begin negotiating a 25-year lease with Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.
Okay, it’s not so bad: There’s no guarantee that Edwards will try to get concessions on the back end — free rent, the city paying maintenance and operations costs, some kind of upgrades slush fund — on the back end, or that the council would approve such a lease if he did. But it’s important to remember that subsidies are increasingly being hidden in lease deals, in part precisely because they’re negotiated out of the public eye, so, you know, keep your public eye on this.
Anyway, add Tampa Bay to the list of metro areas fighting for an MLS franchise, and at least they did it without pouring tons of up-front cash into it like some other cities have been asked to do. That’s something, at least, and a valuable reminder that the sports industry can survive just fine without subsidies, if the level of public interest in the sport is low enough that subsidies are hard to come by. Apparently the Care Bears got it backwards!