The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced Tuesday they have formed an international partnership with Brazil's Sao Paulo Football Club. As part of the agreement, the Rowdies will have access to Sao Paulo's training facilities during the offseason, will form technical and staff exchange programs, play exhibition matches at both teams' home sites and loan players back and forth.
"This is a big deal,'' Rowdies owner Bill Edwards said. "This will help strengthen the Rowdies' vision of developing both youth and professional players abroad. It brings two iconic brands together.''
Sao Paulo is Brazil's most successful club team. It has won six Serie A titles and 12 international titles, including three Club World Cups.
The Rowdies recently finished second in the North American Soccer League's spring season. The club spent last week touring and training at Sao Paulo's facilities. Tampa Bay's fall season begins July 4 against Atlanta.
This isn't the first time the clubs have partnered. In 1981 the Rowdies and Sao Paulo reached an agreement to train players and coaches. Current Rowdies vice president Perry Van Der Beck spent six months in 1982 training with Sao Paulo while he was a member of the Rowdies. The agreement ended in 1985 when the NASL ceased to exist.
"We fully expect the partnership to flourish this time around,'' Sao Paulo club president Carlos Miguel Aidar said.
Francisco Marcos, who joined Tampa Bay in May as consultant for international development, was pivotal in forming the first partnership in 1981. When he re-joined the Rowdies he said one of his top priorities was finding an international club to partner with.
"The first thing I wanted to do was develop a serious international relationship with somebody,'' Marcos said. "Europe, South America, somebody who can understand the things we need. We need players, we need to send players out. We need to play meaningful games internationally. Sao Paulo was the perfect fit.''
Marcos said the agreement is open-ended and will last as long as both clubs find the partnership beneficial. He also said the Rowdies will continue to explore other partnerships, perhaps with clubs in Europe or Asia.
The agreement also will allow both clubs to cross promote in St. Petersburg and Sao Paulo, which could include in-stadium advertising.
Rowdies coach Thomas Rongen believes the partnership could make both clubs better.
"In my opinion, the technical component is the most important,'' Rongen said. "We're talking about a potential exhibition match here against Sao Paulo, an exhibition there against Sao Paulo. Spending preseason there. The exchange of players. Sending our five youngest players there to train for a month. That's huge.
"I'm very excited about the relationship."