Tampa Bay Rowdies Take MLS Campaign to NYC With Times Square Billboard

IMAGE, JAKE NUTTING/EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by JAKE NUTTING

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards wants to make sure everyone knows he’s serious about his push to win one of the expansion spots Major League Soccer has put up for grabs.

To really drive the point home, Edwards has purchased a billboard this week in Times Square displaying the hashtag for the team’s social media campaign to join MLS — #MLS2StPete. The billboard will continue to blaze the team’s hashtag and trademark green and gold colors until next week’s January 31 deadline for all interested MLS bidders to submit their formal applications to the league.

Seeing their former rivals splash cash on advertising in Times Square will no doubt remind some New York Cosmos supporters of when their team blanketed Times Square with several billboards to announce their revival in 2011. The Cosmos didn’t end up kicking a ball in a competitive match in the North American Soccer League for another two years, but at the time, ownership was still eyeing a potential spot in MLS.

Dropping money on a billboard outside of the market he’s trying to bring MLS to might confuse some, but the move fits in line with the eccentric and ambitious nature of owner Bill Edwards.  He’s never been afraid to make waves in order to get his message out and the Times Square billboard is an effort to make a statement to MLS — whose head offices are a few blocks away from the billboard — as well as everyone back in Tampa Bay that he’s confident in the team’s MLS viability.

Getting outlets to take note of the team in the NASL has been in an issue in the past, as the three existing major league teams take up much of the coverage. The Rowdies have already put up a few billboards advertising their MLS bid in Tampa Bay, but Wednesday’s Times Square billboard caught the attention of many of those local outlets.

Edwards still needs local public support on his side to make his bid successful. While he has pledged to privately finance the $80 million seating expansion to the team’s home venue in downtown St. Petersburg, he’ll first have to receive approval from voters for a new lease in a special election in early May. Because the stadium is owned by the city and located on the waterfront, a public referendum is needed to go ahead with negotiations with the city for a long-term lease, which would then need to be approved by St. Petersburg’s City Council. Council members were receptive to the team’s stadium proposal and MLS push at a committee meeting earlier this month.

If the referendum is successful and city council approves the new lease, team officials have said that they could begin stadium renovations as early as November.