TAMPA, Fla. – The United Soccer League and the Tampa Bay Rowdies announced today that the club will be joining the USL for the 2017 season.
As one of the country’s most historic soccer brands, the Rowdies were the first professional sports franchise in the Tampa Bay area and remain one of the most recognizable teams in soccer. Originally established in 1975, they won the Soccer Bowl championship in their inaugural year, and then again in 2012. For the 2017 season, the Rowdies are expected to be placed in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
“With our league headquartered in Tampa, we are pleased to welcome the Rowdies to the USL for next season,” said Alec Papadakis, the Chief Executive Officer of the USL. “This allows us to expand our footprint into the Southeast with a storied soccer brand while meeting our key tenets of market size, committed local ownership and stadium development. In Bill Edwards, we have a dedicated local owner who has invested heavily in the team’s stadium, front office and media efforts and is considered one of the marketplace’s top business and forward-thinking leaders. Bill is a renowned philanthropist and has donated significant money for children's and veterans' causes.”
Tampa Bay is the country’s 11th largest media market and the Rowdies now join the largest professional soccer league in North America with 29 teams across 19 states and three Canadian provinces.
“We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017,” said Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards. “I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The Rowdies’ move to the USL is a positive step toward reaching the long-term goals of the club.”
Situated on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront, the iconic Al Lang Stadium, capacity 7,227, has transformed over the past two seasons. Edwards took over management of the city-owned facility historically known for baseball spring training and invested millions of dollars turning it into a proper soccer venue. The diamond was removed, the pitch leveled, and new turf, drainage and irrigation systems installed. The entire venue was pressure washed and painted, new seats were installed both in the stadium bowl and along the touchline, and the locker rooms were completely refurbished. A team store was added and a state-of-the-art videoboard was installed.
The 2016 season saw the USL record a total attendance of almost 1.5 million for its 29 teams, a 33 percent increase from 2015. The league has more than doubled in size since 2014 and has built a stable, highly-competitive professional soccer league positioned for long-term success. This year, the USL introduced six teams. For 2017 along with Tampa Bay, Reno 1868 FC will enter the league as well as Nashville SC for 2018 and additional expansion on the horizon.