TAMPA, Fla. - Andrew Nestor and Hinds Howard weren’t born yet when the Tampa Bay Rowdies won the North American Soccer League championship in 1975. And they were still in grade school when the storied club folded in 1993, while playing in the less prestigious American Professional Soccer League.
But these two businessmen, still in their 20s, are reviving the Rowdies – including its green and gold colors — in the form of a United Soccer Leagues First Division team.
The newest version of the Rowdies will begin play in 2010. Joining financial forces with Tampa’s David Laxer, president of Bern’s Steak House and old enough to remember the Rowdies’ in their NASL heydays, the ownership group made the formal announcement in a Thursday news conference at Raymond James Stadium. The fourth investor in the ownership group is former Scottish Premier League player Jeff MacDonald.
“We looked at a few markets and we felt Tampa had a very strong soccer tradition and strong soccer community,” said the 25-year-old Nestor, who met Howard, 26, while the two attended Boston University’s School of Management. “Without a pro team here, we felt there was a void we could help fill.”
The Rowdies hope to build their own privately-funded stadium in northwest Tampa, where they could lure fans from Pinellas and Pasco counties. Capacity for the new stadium is expected to be 7,500, with the option for expansion.
For now, Nestor says there’s no connection between their stadium plans and those of the Hillsborough County Commission, which earlier this week gave tentative approval for the construction of a $15 million soccer complex at a location yet to be determined.
“There’s no relationship [between the County Commission and Rowdies stadium plans],” Nestor said. “Certainly, it’s great news for our group and the soccer community. When our venue is finally built, it can be an amenity or an addition to what complex they have envisioned. But again, it’s early on in the process.”
Howard said his group has already hired an architect to draw up plans for a soccer stadium and is considering several sites. His group has also paid the USL’s franchise fee of $350,000 and Howard expects the club to have an annual operating budget of nearly $2 million.
The group declined to reveal the projected cost of the land and the construction of a new stadium. But based on stadium costs of other First Division teams, USL executive vice president Tim Holt estimated the price in Tampa will exceed $10 million. Seven of the current 11 clubs in the First Division operate their own stadiums.
The Rowdies’ owners considered trying to play their first season next year, but decided to wait until 2010 to have the stadium completed and “do things right.”
“We want to give ourselves a real shot at building the stadium,” Howard said. “We’d rather open up a professional venue rather than play at a high school, a local college or even here (Raymond James Stadium), where we would be broke after a year.”
In the meantime, the club plans to will begin hiring staff, scout and sign players and start a youth academy. Once it forms a roster, the Rowdies hope to play exhibition matches in 2009.
One of the first moves was to hire former Tampa Bay Rowdies player and the Tampa Bay Mutiny’s last coach, Perry Van Der Beck. He will serve as technical director and director of community development. The club has a new web site (www.tbrowdies.com) under construction where fans can register for updates. The club plans to reveal an updated version of the Rowdies’ logo in the coming days.