ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to buy the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club from St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, effective Oct. 11, for an undisclosed sum.
The deal will also cede control of Al Lang Stadium, the Rowdies’ downtown St. Pete waterfront home, to the Rays — who a decade ago made an unsuccessful push to build a new baseball stadium on the site. A key condition of the sale, however, requires the Rays to keep the Rowdies at Al Lang for at least the next five years.
The Rays play their home games at Tropicana Field in St. Pete but intend to build a new stadium in Tampa’s Ybor City historic district, despite questions about how the $892 million project will be funded.
Edwards, according to a statement issued by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, “deserves much appreciation for remaking the Tampa Bay Rowdies and investing in Al Lang Stadium and our community. Similarly, the Tampa Bay Rays' leadership has remade their baseball organization and placed considerable emphasis on community engagement. I am confident that this is a positive development for all parties, the great fans of both teams, and the City of St. Petersburg.”
During his five-year tenure as owner, Edwards, 73, made significant improvements to the stadium, adding more than 1,000 seats, among other changes. He also moved the team from the struggling North American Soccer League (NASL) to the fast-growing United Soccer League (USL), while simultaneously submitting a bid for the Rowdies to join the upper-echelon Major League Soccer (MLS).
Edwards also founded Al Lang Live, a summer concert series featuring the likes of Poison, Counting Crows, Soul Asylum and 3 Doors Down, in an effort to bolster economic activity in downtown St. Pete during the slow summer months. At a press conference announcing the deal, Edwards said that his Big 3 Entertainment company would continue the Al Lang Live series and continue to manage the Mahaffey Theater, which is adjacent to Al Lang Stadium.
"We've come a long way," Edwards says. "I'm very proud, but I've done what I came to do. Mission accomplished, and I'm out."
In a statement, Edwards adds, "The sale is bittersweet. When I purchased the Rowdies, they were on the brink of bankruptcy; today they are champions fighting for their rightful spot in the USL playoffs. I saw the potential of the team, and what it could mean for downtown St. Petersburg. I invested my blood, sweat, tears and money, and built an amazing staff that I could not be more proud of. The Rowdies have made great strides, truly becoming a key fixture in the community. I am grateful to the staff and players who have worked so hard, as well as the many sponsors who have stuck with us over the past five years; and I am especially grateful to the fans! We have the best soccer fans in the world, and I don't want them to worry. The team is in great hands. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Edwards, at the press conference, said that the majority of the 250 people who work at Al Lang Stadium will continue to be employed after the deal with the Rays goes through.