TAMPA — What's in a name? To Tampa Bay "Rowdies" owner and team president Andrew Nestor, it is almost everything.
Tampa Bay's professional soccer team — initially introduced as the Rowdies before becoming embroiled in a trademark infringement lawsuit that forced the team to be renamed FC Tampa Bay — can now officially be called the Rowdies in homage to the old NASL club that filled Tampa Stadium and was the area's first championship team.
The club announced Thursday that it has exclusive license to use the Rowdies name, a successful end to a three-year legal process with Dallas-based apparel company Classic Ink, which owned the trademark. Nestor wouldn't disclose terms of the settlement with Classic Ink, only saying they were "significant but reasonable."
Nestor said obtaining the name marked the biggest day in franchise history, even topping the day when the Boston-born businessman announced he was bringing a new professional soccer team to Tampa Bay in June 2008.
"If you look at other sports franchises around the world, in any sport, the successful teams have a classic identity that their community has pride in," Nestor said. "At the end of the day, that's what sports is all about. So for us to have that identity is essential.
"There are not many places in this country where you can go that has a historic soccer brand that the community loves. So for us, yeah, this is the most important day in the history of the franchise."
After reclaiming the name, the team immediately launched a new website (rowdiessoccer.com) and began using the Rowdies name in its social media accounts.
"Certainly this eliminates what was a very difficult first step, which was the educational factor of what is FC Tampa Bay?" Nestor said. "With that taken care of, we can really focus on the things we really want to work on."
Nestor said no royalties or revenue sharing will go back to Classic Ink, and once settlements involving other Classic Ink lawsuits are complete, the team will be the outright owner of the Rowdies' name and likeness.
The team's new logo will have the same script as the old Rowdies, with a yellow star above it to represent the club's one NASL championship. While other teams have gone to shield designs on their jerseys, the script will be across the entire front of the jerseys.
The old Tampa Bay Rowdies were the area's first pro sports franchise, predating the Buccaneers by one year. They won the NASL championship their first season in 1975. Several former Rowdies players stayed in the bay area when the league folded after the 1984 season and were instrumental in building soccer locally.
"There's brand equity in (the Rowdies') name and these colors," NASL commissioner David Downs said. "It's just another step in the right direction for a team that's taken a lot of steps in the right direction in the last year. It's a very, very big deal. If we had our way, all of the teams would be using their names from the past, as we are for the league."
Downs said that when Miami FC changed its name to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, an NASL team of the past, attendance quadrupled. He said he understood the situation here is different, because fans unofficially have always referred to the club as the Rowdies.
"I remember three or four years ago when we announced the Rowdies were back," said executive vice president Perry Van Der Beck, one of the original Rowdies. "Today we can say they really are back. We really always were the Rowdies but now we can say it. But now, the name, all the slogans, we can use all of that. It brings people back to the good times before."
The Rowdies will open their third season April 7 in Puerto Rico. The home opener at Al Lang Stadium is April 14 vs. Edmonton.