December 6, 2016
By Charles Cuttone
THEY WANT IN
Tampa Bay, Carolina to seek MLS franchises
While the North American Soccer League teeters on the brink of extinction, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the newly re-branded North Carolina Football Club hope to join Major League Soccer in the future.
The Rowdies, who had previously announced they were leaving the NASL for the United Soccer League, unveiled plans for a campaign designed to bring MLS back to the Florida City. The Tampa Bay Mutiny were an original club in the league, but were contracted along with the Miami Fusion after the 2001 season.
The Rowdies who as members of the original NASL, were the first pro sports franchise in the Bay Area, and over the last 41 years have competed in a number of leagues at several levels.
“We are committed to expanding the world’s game right here in downtown St. Petersburg, and we feel strongly that joining Major League Soccer is the next logical step,” said Rowdies Chairman & CEO Bill Edwards in a statement. “We have met with MLS executives, including Commissioner Don Garber, and it is clear that they are looking at cities that have demonstrated their support for soccer via season ticket memberships, single game ticket sales and sponsorships.”
The Rowdies plans also include a privately funded renovation and expansion plan for Al Lang Stadium, the former minor league baseball park where the Rowdies play.
Meanwhile the Carolina RailHawks announced a change in name to North Carolina FC, and ambitious plans to field teams in both MLS and the National Women's Soccer League, while also building a new privately funded stadium somewhere in the Raleigh area.
“This is a brand restatement,” said North Carolina FC Owner Steve Malik in a statement. “We aspire to be at the top level of both men's and women's professional soccer, so we are pursuing MLS and NWSL bids as well as a new stadium. We made a conscious decision to brand ourselves as North Carolina's professional club. A united soccer community will be one of the keys to reaching these goals.”
Malik, a software entrepreneur who purchased the RailHawks earlier this year from disgraced marketing company Traffic Sports, hopes to have a decision on MLS within the next 12-18 months, as the league looks to secure its next round of expansion.
"We feel we are well positioned for this," Malik continued. “The market is ready for an MLS team based on our geographical location, population growth, dynamic economic environment and significant soccer participation. MLS requires a minimum of 20,000 seats with amenities in order to maximize revenue, and a new stadium is vital to our plans as it would increase the economic impact in the area and allow us to better showcase the sport.”
He also announced his desire to be awarded an NWSL team for the Triangle in the next six months.
North Carolina FC began accepting memberships and orders for 2017 season tickets, although the club did not announce where it intended to play next season, and is presumably awaiting the fate of the NASL.