St. Pete approves stadium expansion for MLS bid using actual private money, maybe

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!

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10 comments on “St. Pete approves stadium expansion for MLS bid using actual private money, maybe

  1. Bill Edwards will have zero leverage with the City of St. Pete, once the money is spent. Hopefully, even the dumbest and most corrupt elected officials will realize that, and give no concessions at all.

  2. Currently the Rowdies are the only tenant of Al Lang (the former spring training home of the Rays, Cards & Mets as well as the Rays FSL team). When the Rays moved spring training & the FSL team to Port Charlotte it has been largely vacant. Bill Edwards has become the titan of downtown St Pete by buying or managing several key parcels (Baywalk/Sundial & the Mahaffey Thestre, among others) sort of like how Jeff Venik (TB Lightning) has taken on the redevelopment of downtown Tampa. However, unlike Venik, Edwards may have some legal baggage from his mortgage brokerage company closing. Between the potential of a huge fine and that he is probably leveraged to the hilt, a few people are worried about his end game concerning the Rowdies & the stadium. But that said, he has been a great steward so far for the stadium using his own money to rehab and manage the facility. I guess my point is that there is a lot of upside without much risk from the city so far. If he doesn’t get the MSL expansion franchise, no changes to the stadium can happen. And if the Rays end up leaving the downtown and the Trop is redeveloped into mixed use, a larger Al Lang (which was last overhauled in 1975) will still be the sporting jewel by the Bay as it has been for over 100 yrs.

  3. The Rowdies in MLS: NASL old school. Too bad the Cosmos or Kicks aren’t back. Oh wait, everybody’s called the United now.

  4. Low interest in a sport or team has never kept politicians from throwing money at a rich guy before ?

    1. Yes it did and the demographics for potential fans is probably the worse among expansion prospects.

      1. But just think it through, if it awarded and fails again the MLS can charge expansion fees to another potential team operator again!

        1. This only happens if Beckham fails in Miami. Absolutely no need for 3 teams in Florida.

          1. Considering the entire MLS’s financial state is predicated on selling expansion franchises, it might still happen even if Miami falls through.

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