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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 11 months ago

Locker room talk: Soccer club executives spill secrets of success

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Tampa Bay Rowdies leaders discuss the changes that have propelled the team to the top of the United Soccer League standings.

The new-look Tampa Bay Rowdies, under the guidance of second-year head coach Neill Collins, have taken the United Soccer League by storm in 2019, cruising to a record of 13-2-7, good for sole possession of first place in the USL’s Eastern Conference.

Brian Hartz. Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Neill Collins addresses guests of the team's Business of Soccer panel discussion Aug. 7.

While the Rowdies push to secure not only a playoff berth, but also home-field advantage throughout the postseason, front-office executives gathered Aug. 7 to host a Business of Soccer panel discussion that provided key insights into how the franchise succeeds both on and off the pitch.

President Brian Auld, COO Lee Cohen, Collins and player Zach Steinberger — who, the panel revealed, moonlights as a real estate agent and just closed his first sale — were joined by Ryan Madden, the USL’s vice president of communications and public relations, in the team’s locker room at Al Lang Stadium.

Auld, who doubles as president of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rowdies’ new owner, praised the marketing efforts made by the team’s previous caretaker, St. Petersburg development and entertainment magnate Bill Edwards. “He built an incredibly strong brand,” Auld says. “We stand on his shoulders.”

Brian Hartz. Tampa Bay Rowdies COO Lee Cohen addresses guests of the team's Business of Soccer panel discussion Aug. 7.

The Rowdies’ fast start and sustained success caught Auld by surprise. “It was supposed to be a transitional year,” he says. “We wanted to create an environment where people are willing to run through walls to make things happen.”

Buoyed by a lineup that’s been almost completely overhauled — and stocked with young, fit, hungry players nearing their physical peak instead of early-career prospects and aging veterans, which marks a shift from the way USL teams have constructed rosters — they have done just that.

Also keying the turnaround from a rough 2018 campaign, which saw the team post an 11-8-15 record, was the transition of Collins from player to coach. “It was addition by subtraction,” Auld jokes. Collins’ motivation skills have been on full display in the way the players have taken nothing for granted, despite their gaudy record. “There are no worries about complacency setting in,” Auld says.

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