TAMPA — A group of local businessmen will attempt to buoy the bay area’s feeble track record of creating successful pro soccer franchises.
The United Soccer League (USL) Super League announced Tuesday that a Tampa Bay club will be among its inaugural women’s professional franchises set to begin play in August 2024. Local entrepreneur Darryl Shaw, Bern’s Steak House co-owner David Laxer and former BluePearl Pet Hospital chief information officer Jeff Fox are co-owners of the Tampa franchise, which has a website but no home venue yet.
The USL, headquartered in Tampa, also oversees the USL Championship men’s professional league, which includes the Rowdies.
“This is about inspiring, energizing, and uniting our Tampa Bay community,” Shaw said in a statement released by the USL.
“We’re ready to build a team that not only wins on the field, but also makes a positive difference off the field. To us, success comes when you become part of the fabric of your community.”
The USL Super League, expected to feature 10 to 12 teams, bills itself as “the highest level of professional women’s sports to ever field a team with Tampa Bay on its jerseys.” It is not yet sanctioned by U.S. Soccer as a Division One league but aspires to ultimately “rank on par with other top professional sports leagues, and feature players who represent their countries in international competitions such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup and Olympic Games.”
The league will be held from fall through spring, allowing players to balance their commitments to their club and prospective international teams.
“Today, women’s sports are exploding in popularity, and our new team will put Tampa Bay at the forefront,” Tampa mayor Jane Castor said in the statement. “This announcement is the start of something special — for our city, for our region, and for so many girls and boys who’ll get to see amazing new role models right here in their hometown.”
If the local team starts play in August 2024, it initially will compete in a temporary home until a permanent, soccer-specific stadium at an undetermined site can be built, according to the release. The team intends to use the facility as a year-round venue to be used for a wide range of activities, including opportunities with youth and community soccer leagues and non-soccer events.
“This commitment to bring top-tier women’s professional sports to Tampa Bay, in a new stadium where it can truly shine, represents a sincere investment in making this great community even stronger for the future,” USL Super League president Amanda Vandervort said.
“The Super League is driven to make world-class professional women’s soccer more accessible for more players, fans and communities across the U.S., and Tampa Bay’s new team is a key part of that effort.”
History says the prospective franchise will struggle to gain traction in Tampa. While some incarnations of the Rowdies have prospered locally in the last half-century, the Tampa Bay Mutiny (one of 10 Major League Soccer charter franchises) mostly hemorrhaged money before folding in 2001 after a half-decade of existence.
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Additionally, the Tampa Bay Terror of the National Professional Soccer League lasted only three seasons (1995-1997), and the future of the Tampa Bay Strikers men’s and women’s indoor teams — which began play in January — appears highly uncertain.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls