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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Attracting MLS to St. Pete? Orlando has the rights to soccer on the bay



Bill Edwards has been hinting at luring a Major League Soccer franchise to St. Petersburg for awhile.

The owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, which plays in the second-tier North American Soccer League, has said he'd like to play in the big leagues. 

He's also talked about expanding Al Lang Stadium to a much larger venue and gained city support for the venture in its downtown waterfront master plan. 

Now Mayor Rick Kriseman says he'd like to ask voters to approve a lease extension for Edwards' control of Al Lang on the ballot in November, according to his spokesman Ben Kirby. 

The City Council would have to approve any referendum question by late summer, he said.

County bed tax money would be used for the expansion, which FOX-13 reported might cost as much as $70 million.

But there's a wrinkle: Orlando City.

The newly-minted MLS franchise there just drew a huge crowd for its opener.  The fifth largest in the world for soccer last weekend, actually. Not bad for a team in its second MLS season with a 100-percent privately-funded downtown stadium on the way.

And Orlando City has full territorial and TV rights for the Tampa Bay market, said Leonardo Santiago, the team's vice president of communications on Wednesday.

Orlando City is also planning to extend its TV coverage to Tampa Bay in both English and Spanish, Santiago said. And it also has the exclusive right to scout and develop players througout central and north Florida known as "territorial rights," he said. 

Any move by the Rowdies to move up to MLS would have to go through Orlando it appears.

"We have the MLS rights throughout central and north Florida, so any discussion of another franchise would have to include us and MLS," wrote Santiago in an email.

So has anyone from St. Petersburg, the Rowdies or MLS contacted Orlando City?

Not that he's aware of, Santiago said.



[Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 6:01pm]


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