Group aiming to bring back MLS to Tampa

By IVES GALARCEP

The city of Tampa was one of founding cities of Major League Soccer, but the Tampa Bay Mutiny only lasted until 2001, when contraction forced the shutdown of the club.

More than a decade later, a group is trying to put a plan together to bring MLS back to Tampa, and the centerpiece of the project is a proposed $400 million stadium. Credit to The Offside Rules for uncovering the project on Wednesday.

It is unclear just how much muscle this group has, and how realistic the stadium project is, but it is no secret that MLS wants to eventually establish a presence in the southern part of the United States. Something the league hasn’t had since contracting the Mutiny and Miami Fusion.

“We need to be south of Washington D.C. and It isn’t a matter of if, but when and where,” Garber said in his State-of-the-League address on Monday. “The state of Florida needs a Division One professional soccer team. Miami continues to be an intriguing market to us. We are very impressed with the ownership group in Orlando. We will continue to monitor what happens down there and if they are to finalize a stadium plan that makes sense we would be very interested in talking with them about the possibility of becoming an MLS team.”

Orlando has  emerged as a candidate for MLS expansion over the past year, while Miami has long been considered a possibility, but the return of Tampa to the conversation could make things very interesting if the group in question can make progress in getting a stadium built.

With MLS focused on making a second New York team the 20th MLS team, the wait for a team in Florida is likely to be a long one, but MLS hasn’t ruled out expanding the league beyond 20 teams, and as things stand it is looking more and more like Florida will be a safe bet to secure an expansion team after 20, and could even wind up landing the 20th MLS team if Major League Soccer’s bid to finalize a second New York team falls through.

What do you think of this development? Like the idea of having MLS return to Tampa? Think the league is better off having a team in Orlando or Miami?

Share your thoughts below.

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56 Responses to Group aiming to bring back MLS to Tampa

  1. krolpolski says:

    Tampa was a decent market for soccer when the Rowdies played in the old NASL. If they can recreate he magic, I don’t think Tampa would be a bad market. But, they need to have a nearby rival.

    The Strikers in Fort Laudrerdale have also been revitalized in the new NASL. The old Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense for a team branded “Miami.” Miami could be a good market if they set up the team correctly and get a good place to play.

    These are also the larger TV markets in Florida.

    • Travis in Miami says:

      Miami was an epic fail for soccer. I don’t know if it was the market, Traffic, or a combo of both… Tampa has a much better chance of making it happen.

      • JL says:

        Miami is a pretty crap market for sports in general. The Heat struggle to sell out games, even playoff games. The Marlins are the Marlins, and the Dolphins have poor attendance compared to most NFL teams. It’s just a city that is indifferent to it’s sports as a season ticket viewpoint, so MLS really isn’t alone in having trouble down there. I really hope they don’t return ever.

  2. Camjam says:

    I like the idea of a team in Florida, and another in some other Southeastern state (Georgia, or North Carolina probably). I only hope we don’t end up with multiple Florida teams; Let’s see how the state does supporting even one team, then we could move on from there.

  3. Münster says:

    The NASL and USL are currently trying to snatch each other’s markets with each starting a franchise within a year of each other, the NASL being first by signing on the Rowdies last year and USL next season with Tampa Bay FC. Wish NASL and USL would just stop competing.

    • Münster says:

      I see, turns out the people behind this new project are indeed the backers of the new USL pro team

    • RK says:

      Agreed, Munster; they are like two petulant children. Sick of how NASL is also allowed to bend the “rules” that US Soccer has.

      If they got on the same page — regional, smaller — they might have a chance. But I think they are just going to waste their money once again.

  4. Topher says:

    I see Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Orlando, Minnesota, San Antonio really battling for the 21-24 slots. I see the league taking a prolonged expansion break after 24. Can’t see FL getting 3 of those spots but I also don’t see any chance that they get 0. Even though I don’t think its the ideal situation, it sounds like the Falcons new stadium will go through, which should make Atlanta basically a lock for a team if Blank pulls the trigger.

    Based on the markets viability and expressed interest I think that Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, and Minnesota will round out the 24. I think Orlando and San Antonio might just be a bit too small to fit in the first 24 (side note: SKC and Houston will probably be moving to Western Conference in this scenario).

  5. kpugs says:

    How many teams does Garber want in this league? I love that the league is always improving but the simple fact is, at some point as the number of teams increases the level of play will peak and start to diminish.

    • Tyler Kitchens says:

      They said the same thing about the NFL and NBA expansion and they’re doing just fine… Different sports yes, but with ever increasing investment in MLS I guarantee there won’t be a shortage of talent available around the world.

      • Oranje Mike says:

        Define “talent”. MLS is still lacking in many regards. Our clubs struggle against clubs from Central America. Lower division sides in Europe likely would not. There is still a gap here. Increased expansion hurt the NASL and could still hurt MLS if it goes too far.

      • Henry (Hal) says:

        NFL and NBA have no competition.

        soccer is the global game. There isn’t enough talent in MLS now. I can’t imagine how watered down it would be at 24 teams.

        MLS should have stopped at 18

        • Bobb says:

          This comment only makes sense on opposite day.
          Global game means you can get talent from elsewhere, see all the talented Colombians and Central Americans entering the league. The % minutes and % roster spots to US players has not increased at the same rate as MLS franchise expansion. Duh.

    • downintexas says:

      If only americans played soccer I would agree with you. But remember MLS has always planned to be one of the top leagues in the world. The US could support two leagues of 20-24 teams each MLS East MLS West. This would cut down on travel and expenses which will improve play and be able to buy better players. You can draw players from all over the world so level of play would not diminish. Not saying this is the path they will choose, or if they are it won’t happen any time soon.

      • sc says:

        all the other main leagues in the US round out at about 30. I’d say that’s the target number, just might not happen for a number of years. talent will catch up eventually since each of these teams will have an academy and youth system to help funnel kids.

  6. MLSsnob says:

    Get in line…

  7. RCTID says:

    Is nobody paying attention to attendance figures of recent Dolphins games in Miami? Or how the Heat only started to draw once they had James/Wade/Bosh on the roster? And even then, the Heat FO had to “educate” those fans on how to properly attend a basketball game.

    Miami is, by far, the most overrated sports market. High risk, low reward.

    • Tyler Kitchens says:

      I think FL in general is a poor market.. Look at how the Marlins performed once they opened that new started. The Heat dont even sell out home games as is.. Sure they sell out every playoff game but the regular season is a different story.

      • MLSsnob says:

        As a South Florida resident and official supporter of the MLS Miami bid, I have to agree with you. I would love an MLS franchise but even the nation’s most popular sport can’t sell out down here. Miami is a terrible sports town.

  8. Alex says:

    Bring back the Jacksonville Tea Men!

  9. Chris says:

    Florida in August? Why not just shoot the players?

    • Tony in Quakeland says:

      Funny how people point to the weather in the northern cities as a reason not to go to a FIFA calendar (even with a mid winder break) but think it’s okay to play in Texas or Florida in the summer heat.

  10. Andy says:

    Stay out of Florida, professional sports! How many games/teams with empty seats will it take for leagues to learn that their isn’t enough interest down there?

  11. Chris K says:

    Long time Mutiny fan here. I was at the first game and the last game and I would be extremely skeptical of this move.

    Everyone in town knows the struggles faced by the Bucs and the Rays and the Mutiny never really got out of the gate in he 90s. The Rowdies existed here at a time when they were basically the only game in town (the Bucs were just getting started).

    As much I hate to say it, Ive been to Orlando City games and the atmosphere there is much better and more vibrant. I would back Orlando versus Tampa until we see a super concrete proposal and a stout marketing/advertising budget.

  12. The Imperative Voice says:

    The 28,888 figure is a tad too precise and breaks the suspension of disbelief for the sales pitch.

    I then start asking questions like, $400 million for a stadium that small sounds way too much? Most of the new, mediocre Populous/ HOK cookie cutters are $100-150 million. NYRB did theirs gold-plated for what, $200 million? The theorized NY2 was $300 million, and that’s on NYC real estate. So, $400 million, in Tampa? Raymond James itself cost $168 million!

    IMO, we do not need 20-24 teams at the expense of business sanity. We have picked pretty much all the well-attended, low-hanging minor league fruit like Seattle, Portland, and Montreal. The only city left that still attends its team well enough to be in the MLS neighborhood is San Antonio, and they’re playing in a HS field. There is no ready-made expansion team sitting there — and this Tampa idea is a fever-dream business plan posing as a fanbase (eg, why do I need 28K seats — significantly more than most new USA soccer stadia — when the Mutiny averaged, best year, less than half that) — and I see NASL-esque danger in getting so eager about theoretical notions of league size, or how much of an expansion fee we can extract (and that was one specific reason NASL overexpanded), where we lose sight of whether a given city can actually support a team at MLS levels. The Mutiny’s best year was worse than everyone’s 2012 attendance in the league save Chivas (whom everyone and their dog wants to move, sell, or rebrand), and the team was contracted…..

    • Mike in Austin says:

      Two things about the $400m cost mentioned:

      – On the website about the stadium it says it will have a retractable roof, which would add a bit compared to all other MLS stadiums.

      – The $400m cost is not mentioned at all on the group’s website. It is mentioned in the Offside Rules article as a quote from an invite that reads, “According to the invite, VSI and PRI are ‘bringing a breathtaking center pitch to Tampa Bay on 3.30.16′ at a cost of $400m.” The $400m portion is not actually in quotes so I don’t know where that information comes from. Also, it does not specifically say the stadium is going to cost $400m, instead it could mean the whole project (modular temporary stadium, training facility, main stadium, sports medical center, MLS franchise) is going to cost that amount.

      N

  13. Stubbs says:

    This is my dream MLS…

    WEST

    NORTH-WEST
    Colorado Rapids
    Portland Timbers
    Royal Salt Lake (re-brand)
    Seattle Sounders FC
    Vancouver Whitecaps FC

    SOUTH-WEST
    Club Deportivo Los Angeles (re-brand)
    FC Dallas
    Houston Dynamo
    LA Galaxy
    San Jose Earthquakes

    EAST

    NORTH-EAST
    Chicago Fire
    Columbus Crew
    Montreal Impact
    Sporting Kansas City
    St. Louis Atheltica (expansion)
    Toronto FC

    SOUTH-EAST
    Boston City FC (re-brand)
    DC United
    New York Cosmos (expansion)
    New York MetroStars (re-brand)
    Philadelphia Union
    Tampa Bay Rowdies (expansion)

    -Each Team plays everybody in their division 3 times (North-west and South-west play an additional team 3 times to balance with the East). – 15 games
    -Each team plays remaining conference teams twice, home and away. (North-west and South-west play an additional team twice to balance with the East). -10 games
    -Each team plays out of conference teams once. (North-west and South-west play an additional team to balance with the East). – 11 games
    -Total amount of regular season games – 36

    I think most people would like a single table like European leagues, but I think MLS is better off replicating other North American leagues using divisions to reduce travel. This ultimately avoids player fatigue and allows for a better product on the field.

    Also this format would encourage more travelling support which will increase over the years in areas like the pacific North-West, Montreal-Toronto, NY(2)-Boston-Washington-Philadelphia, Dallas-Houston, LA(2)-San Jose, KC-St. Louis, etc.

    Just my 2 cents

    • Henry (Hal) says:

      soccer is not NFL football. Please look at how every other soccer league on the frickin planet is structured. America is not special.

      • word says:

        Wow what a thoughtful and cogent point. You sure it’s not ANY different? Really? Nothing different at all about how soccer is viewed here compared to, say, Europe?

      • Bobb says:

        Oh, you’re one of those. What about pro-rel, salary caps, college, drafts, etc. etc.

    • word says:

      Love this. Except I still wouldn’t have club deportivo LA, I’d just have the “San Diego Super Soccer Stars!”

  14. RK says:

    “it is no secret that MLS wants to eventually establish a presence in the southern part of the United States”

    Really? MLS is more interested in a second team in NYC. They continue to ignore the south.

    • Mike in Austin says:

      RK, I think they are “ignoring” the South only because there is not an investor that meets MLS’s standards. My guess is someone with deep pockets and a shovel ready stadium plan in place popped up in the Deep South, MLS would be there pretty quickly.

      The idea of a second team in New York is attractive because they hope it will spark more interest in the largest media market in the country. A team in the south would help expand the media reach of the league. These are both good ideas.

  15. bottlcaps says:

    I do not see the MLS expanding beyond 20 teams in the near future. FIFA would need to hand the USSF and the MLS and exemption to the policy that keeps top tier leagues around 20 teams. We all saw how much FIFA likes to bend it’s policies when they denied Drogba a transfer outside the transfer period.

    I think the MLS will solidify the 20 teams by helping those teams that have fallen behind a little in marketing and attendance. If these teams cannot get off the dime they would be good candidates to consider move to the other markets like Tampa or San Antonio.

    If Tampa was really serious about the MLS they would be calling Chivas,

    The MLS has found itself with a hot commodity : top tier soccer. They need to keep exclusivity to enhance the value of the current franchisees and to develop the product to meet owners, patrons and players expectations. In all growth there is a time to step back and see how things are going, how they can improve and to mark the road ahead. I think after the 20th team the MLS will take some time off in awarding franchises and focus on existing markets.

    • Annelid Gustator says:

      People seem to not get this: the team “limit” is about total number of games played, duration of season, and keeping competition windows open. If you structure your league right, FIFA will not care.

      Single table, balanced schedule is not all that tenable at 24 teams if you have any domestic cup/confederation play.

      At 32 teams + playoffs, you have dual table, balanced within and breathing room for cups, “interleague” play, etc.

  16. hh says:

    The Tampa Bay Rays should give MLS pause about going back to Tampa. These guys have consistently put together giant-beater teams with their stellar drafting and farm system. Despite having a tiny payroll compared to the Red Sox and Yankees they have had a pretty amazing decade of making the playoffs and playing entertaining ball.

    However, community support is totally lacking. Tons of empty seats and threats from the owners that they will leave TB without the city bankrolling a new stadium. If you can’t do well with a winning team in the AL East, how will MLS fare better?

  17. ed - houston says:

    good luck!! but have stadium will award a franchise as per garber -even in tampa …

  18. Felix says:

    If the stadium is located in the right area in Tampa, and marketed correctly – it could work. But that market is difficult. The Rays don’t draw that well, despite all their recent success, mostly because of a poorly located and hideous stadium. The Buccaneers do alright, but it is NFL and Florida. I don’t know the first thing about the Lightning.
    But please don’t do an expansion team, get that club off that imbecile Vergara and move them over to Tampa.

  19. BUD says:

    Ives,

    Has San Diego ever been looked at as a potential MLS market? I am relatively new as a soccer fan, but it seems like now that I am a fan, I have noticed San Diego actually has a pretty decent soccer following. Do you think it is a possibility? We could lose the Chargers so I need another team to follow!

    • Bobb says:

      San Diego has a team, Tijuana Xolos.
      And they have more Americans playing for them than the 2011 New York Red Bulls.

    • Bobb says:

      And both Tijuana and LA Galaxy are in the finals, San Diegans have the unique opportunity to go watch two local teams try to win championships in the course of a few days.

  20. Matt C in Tampa says:

    I live in Tampa. I followed the Mutiny and i currently follow the Rowdies. The only way i’d like to see MLS come back to Tampa is if there’s a SSS built. AND this project looks Waaaaaaayyyy too expensive and pipe-dreamy.

    If it was a 17–18k. stadium, i might buy it….

  21. Todd Marsch says:

    I lived in Tampa for 6 years, my wife currently live in Miami (so I spend a fair amount of time there), and my in-laws live in Orlando (so I spend a fair amount of time there). Out of the 3 potential Florida markets, I’d rate like this based on my experiences:

    1.) Miami. I could see a glitzy Galaxy/Redbull type of team working here in a good stadium. I was at the Chivas v. Barca game that drew 70,000+ last year, and during international tournaments (not even major ones like the World Cup or Euros, e.g. U-20 World Cup or Olympics), games are on TV in all sorts of bars and restaurants. There is clearly a fanbase here for high-level soccer. I could see the realistic best-case Miami team being like the Redbulls–lots of star players brought in and decent attendance, but not what you would hope for from such a big market. A Columbus-style team (e.g. limited budget, modest stadium, few, if any, big names) wouldn’t fly even if it were successful on the field.

    2.) Orlando. This is simply because Orlando doesn’t have much of a track-record (good or bad) for supporting top-tier pro franchises in any sport. I have no idea how it would go, but I don’t get the sense that there is the latent fanbase here the same way there is in Miami.

    3. Tampa. Tampa’s proven to be a loser in MLS already and doesn’t have a good record of consistently supporting its other pro teams. The Rays had good support for a couple years around their World Series appearance, but otherwise don’t draw well; the Lightning had good support for a couple years around their Stanley Cup win, but otherwise don’t draw well; the Bucs even have pretty soft support after a down year or two. From my experience, the only teams that most people in Tampa support consistently are UF or FSU football.

    • Matt C in Tampa says:

      Great points Todd. As Tampa resident and soccer fan, i am OK with MLS not coming back. I would love to see, however, the Rowdies grow support to the 8k–10k range and get a nice little SSS.

      Sadly, Florida has proven that it can’t support—-on a long term basis—-a pro soccer team where 15k—20k in attendance is anticipated.

      • Rowdies Fan says:

        This is crazy! The downtown land was bought by the Lightning for big bucks. This whole story sounds fishy. If the new team comes in they will not replace the Rowdies in the Heart of TB soccer fans which means the project is DOA in my opinion.

      • Todd Marsch says:

        I live (most of the year, anyhow) in Pittsburgh now and kind of feel the same way about the Burgh and MLS. For selfish reasons, I’d love to see an MLS team here, but realistically, an MLS team would never work here. The best I can hope for is pretty much what is happening–the Riverhounds getting what appears to be a nice, cozy SSS, building their attendance to several thousand/game consistently, and becoming a stable Division II/III club.

  22. David Rice says:

    As a Tampa resident I obviously want this and I think we really are a great option. People still bemoan the contraction of the Mutiny and the Rowdies have had pretty solid support since coming back. I don’t know of any city in FL that has the soccer culture that Tampa does and when you consider that the Bucs have alienated their fanbase in recent years, the baseball team is in St. Pete and hockey is killing itself, a soccer team really could work. If you pay attention, the game is everywhere in this town and if we had the right stadium in the right location, the soccer community here would support it fervently. I have been a Floridian all my life and I have to say I think that Miami should be eliminated. I grew up in South Florida and I have always felt that the only thing that people in Miami really support is the Dolphins and night clubs. Everything else means nothing to the people down there. The Heat are a championship team made of all-stars and when you watch the games, you see empty seats all the time and the atmosphere is like Cirque d’ Soleil. The occasional “ooh” or “ahh” but they pretty much sit silently the rest of the time and that’s not what soccer is about. Miami doesn’t back the Marlins or Panthers either, so why would they get behind a soccer franchise. Orlando could do it, but where? You have to look at the way the city is setup around I-4 and it’s going to be tough, there is no central location that really works for a stadium. Downtown doesn’t have many residents and isn’t really in the center of the Orlando area. The Magic are an established entity you have to compete with as well, but it could be done, it all hinges on finding the right location for the stadium. Tampa and Orlando are the two big ones to consider in my opinion.

  23. el paso tx wants NASL says:

    Honestly i always thought, that one city from FL had to come out with some crazy soccer plan and now its here. Tampa bay knew all along they had to make the best sss and owner group bcus u have to beat atl,miami,orlando and tampa bay sure has a very good plan. For instance I have always said, mls needs more teams in the southeast and southwest in order to go fifa schedule but the stadiums needs to come with retractable roof like tampa bay bcus of the heat and summer rain. Therefore, tampa bay will set the standard for the southwest and southeast teams in terms of sss and hopefully now north teams will think about adding a real roof cover like skc and red bull, oh and maybe cold cities should have a heated field for winter games. By the way, maybe phoenix or tucson, miami, orlando and new north cities should learn from tampa bays sss plans.

  24. David Rice says:

    At the same time, I agree with the comment above that says MLS probably won’t expand past 20 team any time soon and that team won’t be in the south so it’s a lot of talk and debate about nothing. Tampa probably won’t get a soccer team based on what happened with Mutiny anyhow. Hopeful here in the Bay, but not holding my breathe.

    • Bobb says:

      MLS will expand past 20 teams in just a few years, between NY2, Minneapolis, Orlando, San Antonio all being serious contenders plus St Louis, Miami, Las Vegas, Detroit, Tampa, Vegas, San Diego, etc. etc.
      I don’t know where people get this 20 thing from, Garber has never said 20 is any sort of limit.

  25. MLS 4.0 says:

    At first you will have more foreigners to fill in those spots lacking american talent. Eventually through evolution of soccer culture, the talent will come.

    The stadium’s can be small 20,000 seaters to guarantee success on the stands.

    Orlando City

    Tamba Bay Rowdies

    Miami Strikers

    Carolina Railhawks

  26. WSW says:

    Also another spin on all this is Jeff Vinik owns land next to Forum and he could partner with VSI to build a soccer-specific-stadium.

    He also is a corporate director for Liverpool FC.