Rays' Purchase Of USL Club Not Connected To Ballpark Search
The Rays claim their "surprising and curious deal" to buy the USL Tampa Bay Rowdies was made only to "get into the soccer business and has no connection to the effort to find [a] new home for their baseball team," according to a front-page piece by Topkin, Johnston & Frago of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. The deal includes at least "short-term control of downtown waterfront Al Lang Stadium." The Rays tried a decade ago to get a new ballpark built there and "never fully let go of the idea -- which is why there was immediate speculation there was more to the Rays-Rowdies deal than just control of a soccer team." Among the speculation was that the Rays were "seeking an alternative St. Petersburg stadium site to their proposed new home in Ybor City" or that the team was "considering moving their spring training base back to St. Petersburg from Port Charlotte." Rays President Brian Auld indicated that neither idea was the reason for the move, saying that it was just an "opportunity to buy the soccer team" from Rowdies Chair & CEO Bill Edwards and "grow their overall business." Tampa attorney Ron Christaldi, a co-Founder of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Rays 2020, said that the Rowdies purchase was "actually a good sign the Rays want to make the Ybor deal work." He added that team officials reiterated to him that a Ybor ballpark was their "'highest and only focus' after word of the soccer deal got out." The price tag of the Rowdies purchase was not disclosed, but Edwards said that he has been "looking to sell for a while." He indicated that he has had "several offers for the soccer team." The deal "won't become official until Oct. 11 at the earliest." St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes said that Auld told him the Rays were "interested in buying the Rowdies last year, when Edwards expressed interest in selling the team." The Rays "looked into that option again and decided it made sense from a business standpoint, citing, for example, the potential to package sponsorships together for both teams" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 10/2).
THE PRICE IS RIGHT: In Tampa, John Romano notes it is possible this was a deal the Rays "simply could not pass up." No one is "talking publicly about the purchase price, but there are whispers the Rowdies were sold dirt cheap." If that is the case, the purchase "makes more sense." The Rays have experience "running a sports franchise, and already have infrastructure in place for marketing, ticketing, training staff and other departments." That would seemingly "give them a better shot at turning a profit" than Edwards (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 10/2).