This morning Noah Pransky (WTSP 10 News) formally broke the news the Tampa Bay Rays are planning to purchase the Tampa Bay Rowdies for an undisclosed amount, as well as control of Al Lang Stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront.
The Rowdies currently play on the site of the Rays’ failed 2008 stadium bid on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront.
According to Pransky, St. Pete City Councilman Charlie Gerdes confirmed meeting with Rays president Brian Auld Monday afternoon.
Team representatives indicated they share many of the same sponsors with the Rowdies and the decision to purchase just made sense. Gerdes said Auld told council members the plan to purchase the Rowdies was a business decision independent of the Rays search for a new stadium site.
It’s got nothing to do with what’s going on in Ybor City, it’s got nothing to do with spring training, Gerdes said Auld told him. It’s purely a business decision that makes a lot of sense when you look at the relationship the teams have …
They love downtown St. Pete and are a sports business and they think it’s a very smart business decision. He did say (it) … has nothing to do with short-term or immediate plans they have for baseball.
However, news of the pending deal has sparked speculation the Rays might be eyeing St. Petersburg once more as the clock ticks down toward the December 31 memorandum of understanding (MOU) deadline. Councilmember, Darden Rice, told the Tampa Bay Times she came to a similar conclusion after speaking to Edwards.
I would think Hillsborough voters might find it odd that the Rays have the money to buy a soccer team, but not come to the table with money for a stadium. To me, that says the deal in Hillsborough must be dead.
Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice tweeted a comparable — albeit cheeky — comment this morning after news of the deal broke.
Thought they were kind of busy with another project but it must be going really smoothly in order to have time to negotiate a team purchase
— Charlie Justice (@VoteJustice) October 1, 2018
Yet Gerdes attempted to pour cold water on the speculation, saying,
I don’t believe that there’s any signal that a baseball team is going to go on the Al Lang site.
He opined a redeveloped Tropicana Field site is still “plan B,” not the Al Lang site.
The Rays have not formally ruled out building a new facility in St. Petersburg — the city has offered the Trop site and its lucrative redevelopment fees — if the Ybor deal falls through. As Pransky wrote in July, St. Petersburg and Pinellas County can likely offer the Rays significantly more construction money than Hillsborough County.
Bill Edwards, the current owner of the Rowdies, attempted to land an MLS franchise last year, a campaign in which he committed $80-million of his own money toward an expansion of Al Lang Stadium. In doing so, St. Pete voters overwhelmingly approved of a referendum for that expansion.
The question then begs, will Edwards — who will maintain promotional rights for concerts held at Al Lang — retain minority ownership status of the Rowdies? If so, and if a deal between cash-strapped Tampa and the Rays cannot come to fruition by the aforementioned cutoff date, might Edwards be compelled to chip in money for a multi-use facility for both teams— either at Al Lang or the Trop site?
Conjecture aside, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman views the development as a positive one, lavishing both Edwards and the Rays with praise.
Mr. Edwards deserves much appreciation for remaking the Tampa Bay Rowdies and investing in Al Lang Stadium and our community, Kriseman said. 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.
Neither Rays nor Rowdies officials said much about the deal and scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. Tuesday at Mahaffey Theater.