Andrew Nestor and his fellow owners of the Tampa Bay Rowdies want to reignite the excitement the team generated years ago.
Like many of the fans he hopes to attract, Andrew Nestor played soccer and developed a passion for the international sport that still languishes in popularity in the United States.
Nestor, 26, brings that love, a finance background and a knowledge of younger fans, to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Tampa's professional soccer team where he is president and part owner.
He is also chief executive officer of TBR Holdings LLC, which includes the Rowdies and Citrus Development, a stadium development firm.
The Rowdies, a team that played in Tampa years ago, will return to play, with its original gold and green colors, in April 2010, as part of the United Soccer League, first division.
The rebirth of the team began when Nestor and business partner Hinds Howard, 27, started Citrus Ventures, a Waltham, Mass. merchant bank, in 2006. Citrus focuses on business creation, private capital placement and mergers and acquisitions.
As they started building the firm, Nestor and Howard leaned more toward sports and media businesses.
When they learned about ownership opportunities in the United Soccer League, they were intrigued. Nestor had passion for soccer and is a certified personal trainer. There was a relatively low entry cost. There was a growing interest in soccer in the United States. So Nestor did a year of due diligence about the 11-team league.
He narrowed his choices to San Antonio and Tampa. But once he came to Tampa and met investor David Laxer, owner of Bern's Steakhouse, and got a feel for the political and sports climate in Tampa, Nestor was sold on Tampa.
He and Howard became part of the Rowdies ownership group.
“Tampa has as rich a soccer tradition as you'd find in the United States,” Nestor says.
That quickly surfaced when Nestor saw fan reaction to the return of the Rowdies.
“The response to using the same name has been fantastic,” he says. “Even from the media and the political perspective. People are excited. Obviously, they have fond memories.”
Part of the reason is that the Rowdies were good corporate citizens, paying bills and keeping ticket prices reasonable. The league at that time grew popular in the 1970s, but grew too quickly and failed.
The current league, United Soccer, was established in 1986. Its majority owner is Nike. It focuses on grass-roots soccer and smaller stadiums.
Nestor, a native of Quincy, Mass., graduated in 2004 from Boston University's school of management, where Howard went, with a bachelor's in business administration with a focus on finance. He worked at a savings bank in Massachusetts, with GE Capital and now Citrus Ventures.
Today Nestor spends all of his time directing the Rowdies. That's consistent with the way he set up the merchant bank.
“We are very entrepreneurial and like to roll up our sleeves and be involved in the businesses we invest in,” he says.
Howard worked in investment banking at Lehman Brothers in New York and eventually moved into a private equity post with Lehman in Houston.
This background led Howard and Nestor to be entrepreneurial, using their skills to create things they are passionate about, like the Rowdies. Nestor is comfortable with his humble beginnings.
“I think to be a successful entrepreneur you don't need to come from big money, because I didn't,” Nestor says. “If you are creative, create something with value, something tangible, and find people with complementary skill sets,” you can succeed.
Nestor, who is single, was splitting time between Tampa and his native Boston, but now spends most of his time in Tampa.
His strategy with the Rowdies includes grass-roots community marketing, helping the team become part of the fabric and culture of the community. That means capturing a new generation of younger fans. Being 26 helps.
“Understanding personally what that generation looks for and how to reach out to them is an asset,” Nestor says.
Although fans are excited about the team, some Hillsborough County residents immediately hit Nestor with a NIMBY challenge.
Fellow owner Laxer owns land in northwest Hillsborough, near the Veteran's Expressway, that the team was hoping to use to build a soccer stadium. The majority of the stadium site was zoned for a stadium. The ownership group filed a planned development application to tie in another piece of land.
When the group sought government approval, residents near the site objected, and spoke at a public hearing about potential increased noise and traffic.
Although the county staff approved the application, the Rowdies withdrew it because of the importance of community support.
So Nestor is now actively looking in and out of Hillsborough for different stadium sites. When the team starts playing in 2010, it will lease a temporary site, most likely at the University of Tampa or the University of South Florida in Tampa. It would like to open a 5,000-seat stadium in 2011.