Friday, May 2, 2014

Could Cronyism Lead to the Rowdies Entering MLS?

It's do-or-die day today in the Capitol for a stadium subsidy bill that could make it easier for pro teams and leagues to land tax dollars, as well as potentially make it easier for them to break their leases.

But it won't just be baseball and football teams keeping a close eye on what happens today...an enormous amount of soccer investors will too.  Because while the legislature was debating the controversial inclusion of Major League Soccer teams into the bill, lawmakers somehow also slipped in language to include the minor-league North American Soccer League too.

Yes, the NASL, which averages little more than 4,000 fans per game in Florida (teams in St. Pete and Ft. Lauderdale) will now be eligible to apply for state funds originally designed to support economic drivers like spring training.

No offense to great fans and a great organization, but the Tampa Bay Rowdies are not drawing fans in from out-of-state, and they're not driving the region's economy.

You may ask what businessman could be so influential to get the NASL on the same playing field as MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, and NASCAR?  It's Rowdies' owner Bill Edwards, one of the biggest businessmen in the 'Burg and more influential figures in the state.

We know he wants state money...could it be for a new stadium and possible push into the MLS?

It would certainly helps explain this February Twitter exchange between Edwards' ally Peter Schorsch and Punditfact editor Aaron Sharockman:
While any Rowdies subsidies would still need to submit to the state's yet-to-be-seen economic impact qualifications, Edwards knows it's not hard to get an economic study to say anything you want.  There may also not be much competition for stadium subsidies from the Tampa Bay Rays if the bill passes in its current state, which would exclude MLB teams until the league changes its policy on Cuban players.

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