The Tampa Bay Cannons, an American Ultimate Disc League team, wants to make Al Lang Stadium its permanent home.
The professional ultimate frisbee team played in Tampa last season but hopes to play in downtown St. Petersburg in 2020, said Peter Masone, general manager.
“Downtown St. Pete is eclectic in nature,” Masone said. “We are a non-traditional sport and I feel like it would be widely accepted in downtown St. Pete.”
While watching players throw and catch discs gets people into the games, Masone is focused on a bigger goal. He said the team is a vehicle to teach youth leadership skills, build confidence and enforce a positive work ethic, while actively supporting social and environmental causes.
The Cannons have the support of several local schools and about 100 local businesses. Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, is a fan.
Masone said he has had preliminary talks with the city of St. Pete, which owns Al Lang, and with the Tampa Bay Rays, which manage the stadium. The Rays declined comment on the discussions.
Community oriented sport
The Cannons were created in 2015, when the American Ultimate Disc League expanded its South Division. The league wanted a team in Florida, because professional ultimate frisbee has a large fan base in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The team initially played in Jacksonville, before moving to Tampa in 2018. In 2019, the Cannons played a full season at Skyway Field in Tampa.
About half of the players and staff live in the Tampa Bay area, so the move made sense, Masone said. For instance, Andrew Roney, a Cannons player who represented the team in the All Star Game last season, was born and raised in Tampa, and his parents own Roney Insurance, an independent insurance agency in Tampa.
But Tampa is a “drive-time” city, dependent on auto transportation, unlike downtown St. Petersburg.
“People can park and pre-game at one of the local establishments, restaurants or bars, come to pre-game at the stadium, enjoy a great, energetic non-contact sport and then after the game they can go back out to the downtown St. Pete area,” he said. “The stadium is small enough that it can be an intimate experience without being an overwhelming experience.”
Professional ultimate frisbee is a community-oriented sport, said the Chamber’s Steinocher, who played amateur ultimate Frisbee while attending Emory University.
“It’s the kind of sport that fits with St. Petersburg, especially as we are trying to attract talent and young professionals,” Steinocher said.
Another draw is Campbell Park, on 14th Street South, in the shadow of Tropicana Field. Masone, who lives within walking distance of the park, said it is underused.
“I feel like the Cannons creating a presence at Campbell Park would bring more positive attention to it and create youth programs there,” Masone said.
Positive economic impact
Steinocher has introduced Masone to local sports teams, venues and businesses.
The Cannons have about a dozen corporate sponsors. In addition, about 100 companies spanning a wide range of industries have signed a petition that said they believed the Cannons would create a positive economic impact in St. Petersburg. Masone shared the names of some of the companies that signed the petition. They are: Ferg’s, Nueva Cantina, Club Savor, Florida Spine Institute, Bay Area Orthopedics, Optimal Performance & Physical Therapies, JM Wolf General Contractor Inc. and 2 Hungry Dog Productions.
Masone wants to present the petition to the St. Petersburg City Council and Mayor Rick Kriseman to demonstrate the business community’s backing for the team.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies, owned by the Tampa Bay Rays, are the primary residents of the city-owned Al Lang Stadium. The lease with the city calls for other events to be held at Al Lang, although the Rays have a say in what those events are and when the stadium can be used.
Masone said he’s gotten permission from the AUDL to work around the Rowdies’ schedule to avoid conflicting home games.
“Although our seasons overlap, we are able to create a scenario where every weekend there’s something going on at that stadium,” he said.
The Cannons will host a combine, tryouts to assess performance skills and attributes, in January. Masone would like to know by then where the team will play in 2020. If the Cannons can’t play at Al Lang, Masone said he’d like to explore playing at Campbell Park. The team also could stay in Tampa.
The AUDL is in its eighth year of existence and financially stable, Masone said. The league last year raised $500,000 in a small open public offering through StartEngine.com, selling non-voting Series B shares to 271 investors.
In 2018, the league sold broadcast rights to Stadium, a multi-platform sports network, which broadcasts game of the week every Saturday evening. Some of the games are rebroadcast on The CW Network, Masone said.
The AUDL told Masone that Al Lang would be a great location for the league’s championship weekend, a final four style event that attracted more than 7,000 people each day to the stadium in Madison, Wisconsin when it was held there in 2018. The championship was held in San Jose, California earlier this year.
“We believe by the example created by the other teams in the league, that scenario can be replicated with success in St. Pete and it can be replicated in a shorter period of time,” Masone said.
He’s confident the Cannons can succeed in St. Petersburg.
“We want to be part of the community and we’ve proven we can make a positive impact,” he said, citing the team’s work with organizations like Forest Planet, which plants trees for every ticket sold to a home game, Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, Children’s Wish Fund and other nonprofits. “If we can make that kind of impact when people don’t know who we are, wait till they know who we are.”