By MIKE GRAMAJO
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A new era has arrived for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The Rowdies announced on Thursday afternoon that controlling interest of the club has been sold to multimillionaire entrepreneur Bill Edwards after five years of ownership by Andrew Nestor and David Laxer.
“Why not soccer? It’s an incredible sport and attendance is due to rise in the next five years,” Edwards told reporters after the press conference. “I think in the future that we’ll make a wonderful 20,000-seat soccer waterfront stadium, but that’s a long-term goal.”
When Edwards was asked about potentially taking the Rowdies to Major League Soccer, he answered, “In the future that would make a long term goal, but I rather stay where we are.”
One of the first orders of business under the Edwards’ regime will be to re-sign head coach Ricky Hill and add new bench and club seats to the club’s home stadium. Previous owner Andrew Nestor will remain as club president while also performing general manager duties.
“I feel with the passion and resource that Bill Edwards brings to table, we can take this club to the next level,” Nestor told SBI. “He’s a very hands-on guy. We want to work on having a depth on the bench and with the increased budget, we will be able to achieve (that).
“We are still sorting things out. We will be doing an exhibition match with Orlando City like we did last year and working out other preseason agendas.”
Despite the ownership change, front office positions will stay the same. Edwards, however, did mention that dropping the Tampa Bay moniker and adding St. Petersburg is a possibility in the future.
Edwards is no stranger to changing the direction of a business. He successfully took over the struggling Mahaffey Theatre, which is located next to Al Lang Stadium.
“We need more seats, the stadium needs improvement,” said Edwards. “The budget will increase and that will give the flexibility we need.”
What do you think of this development? Do you think the Rowdies can be a contender next year in the NASL? Can the Rowdies successfully renovate Al Lang Stadium? Do you see a 20,000 seat soccer-specific stadium happening?
Share your thoughts below.