Owner of USL’s Rowdies selling club, touts team’s possible future in MLS
The Tampa Bay Rowdies, the second-tier USL team and one of the 12 groups tabbed by MLS as a potential expansion market, is being put up for sale.
Owner Bill Edwards confirmed that the club will be brought to market this week, noting that he’s already beginning to have conversations with potential investors. Edwards said that while he is shopping the entire team, he is open to staying on in some capacity with a new ownership group. Edwards declined to say if other minority stakeholders in the team would also be selling.
Industry sources pegged the team’s value at more than $25 million, as expansion fees for the USL now eclipse $5 million — they were less than $1 million five years ago. Other recent team sales are now into the eight figures, sources said.
Edwards, who acquired the team in 2013 and moved it to the USL from the NASL in 2017, said the team is profitable and holds no debt. He said he’s invested more than $40 million in the team but declined to put a price tag on his ownership stake, saying that “it’s about finding the right person or right group that will see the future ahead and continue to carry on what we’re doing.”
That future could include MLS, as the Rowdies were one of the 12 groups that submitted formal bids to the league last January. While Tampa was not selected as one of the four in the running for the first two spots to be awarded — one was already granted to Nashville — Edwards said that he is optimistic about its chances for one of the final two spots. MLS is expected to select those teams later this year.
“There are no guarantees that we will end up in MLS, but of the 11 biggest television markets in the U.S., MLS has the first 10 and this is No. 11 — that’s a big plus, and that will get the attention of MLS,” Edwards said.
That may drastically increase the value of the club in any transaction as well, according to industry sources. However, Edwards noted that, “it’s not inexpensive to get into MLS.” The MLS expansion fee is set at $150 million.
Last year, local voters in St. Petersburg approved a plan that would extend the team’s lease at the city-owned waterfront stadium if an MLS expansion spot were granted. It also allowed for Edwards’ plan to renovate and expand the stadium from 7,000 to 18,000 seats. The project would cost $80 million and be privately financed.
While Edwards had positioned the club for MLS, he said he has kept his focus on growing in the USL. The Rowdies finished with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference last year, and set multiple club records, including averaging more than 5,663 fans per game. Since Edwards acquired the team, it has tripled its revenue, he said.
Industry sources said that Park Lane has been hired by Edwards as the financial adviser for the transaction. Both Edwards and Park Lane declined to discuss that.
Edwards, 73, a real estate and entertainment investor in the St. Petersburg area, underwent open-heart surgery last year, and has decided to step back from some of his business endeavors as a result.