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Top Rays executive: Rowdies purchase is an ‘exciting business opportunity’

Margie Manning



Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Silverman addresses Tuesday's press conference next to Tampa Bay Rowdies' Bill Edwards.

After buying the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Tampa Bay Rays will reinvest proceeds from Rowdies’ games back into the soccer club.

Matt Silverman, president of baseball operations for the Rays, declined to disclose the purchase price, but talked about the economics behind the deal after a Tuesday morning news conference confirming the sale, which was widely reported Monday.

“It’s an exciting business opportunity and it’s a community asset,” Silverman told St. Pete Catalyst. “Just like with the Rays, we’re going to pour back in the revenues to enhance the product and the fan experience and make it a great thing for our fans.”

Silverman said there are potential cost-savings as well as revenue enhancements.

“There’s some back offices synergies in terms of shared services and shared personnel,” he said. “The more exciting part is the way we can cross-promote and we can learn from each other’s organizations. You have two organizations that have been doing great work. Each have their own ideas and areas of expertise. I think when we combine those and we share those ideas, both organizations are going to come out stronger.”

The purchase will close after the Rowdies finish their current season. Their last game is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 14. Pending City Council approval, the Rays also will take over the existing contract with the City of St. Petersburg for management of Al Lang Stadium, where the Rowdies play their home games.

The agreement with the city continues through 2020, said Bill Edwards, the current Rowdies owner, but the Rays have agreed to keep the Rowdies in St. Petersburg for five years, Edwards said.

Rays - Rowdies Press Conference

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Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards sits next to Rays owner Matt Silverman

The city agreement also requires the primary use of Al Lang be for soccer and the Rowdies, said Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The city benefitted financially from the Rowdies’ presence, Kriseman said.

“At 9 o’clock when the games are over, all the fans that have been at the game leave the stadium and they’re all around downtown. You see the yellow and green color everywhere downtown,” Kriseman said. “That’s dollars being spent in our restaurants, being spent in our shops and galleries. We love that. That’s what it’s all about.”

Big3 Entertainment Group, headed by Edwards, will continue the Al Lang concert series, Silverman said.

“Together we’re going to add a deeper slate of events and activities to Al Lang and contribute even more to the vitality of downtown St. Pete,” Silverman said.

During the news conference, Silverman emphasized the Rays’ commitment to St. Petersburg, even while the baseball club plans to build a new ballpark in Ybor City. He addressed that issue head on.

“Some obvious questions are being asked, especially what this might mean for our Ybor ballpark plans. The answer is simple. There is no connection. The Rays are committed to our ballpark plan in Ybor and we are committed to the Rowdies playing at Al Lang,” Silverman said.

The Rays and Rowdies will be operated as separate organizations, he said.

The Rays are not the only baseball organization to take an ownership stake in a soccer team.

In May, Tom Ricketts, the owner and chairman of the Chicago Cubs, acquired a majority position in a United Soccer League expansion team planned for Chicago. In January, the USL said it would bring an expansion team to Memphis, Tennessee for 2019, under the ownership of a group led by Peter Freund and Craig Unger, owners of the Memphis Redbirds, the AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s a testament to the growing popularity of soccer, said Jake Edwards, president of the US, at the news conference.

Jake Edwards, Kriseman and Silverman all expressed gratitude to Edwards, who said the Rowdies were insolvent when he bought the team in 2013. Since then, he’s spent millions of dollars in stadium renovations, player and coaching personnel, youth soccer development and more.

Edwards said he’s had lots of offers to buy the team but he wanted to keep the team local. He said he knows Silverman well – the two are neighbors – and they’ve had a lot of conversations that convinced Edwards a sale to the Rays was the right course of action.

“I’ve done the things I was supposed to do,” Edwards said. “Mission accomplished. I’m out.”

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