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Tampa Bay Rays Buy Rowdies Soccer Team For "Millions"

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards announced he will sell the team to the Tampa Bay Rays at a press conference at the Mahaffey Theater Tuesday morning.

Amid negotiations fora new stadium in Hillsborough County, the Tampa Bay Rays are buying the St. Petersburg-based Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team.

At a Tuesday morning press conference, current Rowdies owner Bill Edwards said the Rays will take over ownership of the team at the end of the season. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will act as owner of the team, but the Rays' President of Baseball Services Matt Silverman said many of the staffers who have turned the Rowdies into a leader in the United Soccer League will remain.

Edwards, who also manages the Mahaffey Theater and owns Sundial St. Pete, said that after five years he was ready to focus on other business ventures and hand over the reins to younger, local owners.

"Let's face it. I'm not a young guy, I'm an older guy," Edwards said. "You've got younger people, you've got a major league sports team that's taking over what used to be a struggling Rowdies. It's not struggling anymore, we've finally made it so that it's valid and it's important and it's worth money."

Exactly how much money the team is worth remains a mystery for now. Edwards refused to say how much he sold the Rowdies for, only that the deal with the Rays was in the "millions."

Attempting to dispel rumors that the Rays would revive efforts to build a waterfront baseball stadium where the Rowdies' Al Lang Stadium is currently, Edwards said the deal will require the Rays to keep the soccer team at their St. Pete location for five years. He also said the contract with the city that the Rays will inherit is for a soccer field only.

"[Al Lang Stadium's] purpose is to be the home field for the Rowdies," he said. "It says that in the agreement with the city, it still says that, it's always going to say that."

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman also said at the press conference that he had not heard any official talk of the Rays moving to Al Lang Stadium from Port Charlotte for spring training. That was another popular rumor that popped up online Monday afternoon, when news of the unexpected sale first broke.

Kriseman, who wore a Rowdies scarf and Rays baseball cap to the press conference, said he thought the sale would be good for St. Pete.

"I had heard some rumors that Bill was potentially looking to make a move on a sale," he said. "My hope had always been, when I heard that, that it would be someone local, someone invested in the community that would continue to invest in the team."

It remains unclear whether the Rowdies will revive their failed bid to be a Major League Soccer expansion team under new ownership. Edwards said Tuesday that he would push the Rays ownership to continue on with the $80 million expansion of Al Lang Stadium he proposed last year.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.