Local businessman Bill Edwards is out to grow the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer franchise, and possibly grow its whopperjawed stadium as the end game.
"We're going to try to do the best we can to get the season tickets up and so forth, and show that we deserve it. A new stadium and a new place to play," Edwards told FOX 13 News.
His comments were made on the re-laid turf inside Al Lang Stadium, downtown St. Petersburg's historic waterfront baseball field.
The layout for soccer puts roughly half of the stadium's seats along an end zone, the other half stretching part way up one sideline.
Friday, crews installed new stadium seats along the opposing sideline, an improvement Edwards previewed when he revealed his new ownership status a few months ago.
Friday, he tested one of the front row seats.
"They're cushy, they're padded, they're special," Edwards concluded, noting they also rock, and they also sell.
"There might be 50 or 75 tickets left in this whole section of seats, there're about 1100" of the new seats, added to Al Lang's 6,500 seats.
"The idea is you fill these up and you fill the stadium up...and it keeps having more demand and hopefully we can turn this into something much bigger," Edwards said. "I could see this thing turning into 18, 20,000 seats overlooking the water -- no higher than it is today."
Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill is back for his tenth season.
"The arena has changed, the concept has changed totally since November of last year," he said.
Hill credited the previous ownership with doing all it could to support the team, but said Edwards has taken matters to a new level.
One example: Player health care. There is now regular professional massage therapy and emergency care.
"We've had a number of unforeseen injuries but they've been taken care of immediately. We've had a couple of operations that were taken care of the next day," Hill said, adding the players have noticed the upgrades and are anxious "...to prove their worth to this club."
Saturday's home opener will also be followed by a Red Hot Chili Pipers concert, another Edwards whim: The Pipers are a Scottish bagpipes ensemble.
"One of the owners saw the DVD and thought "These are the guys we're going to want for an after show of the first game," spokesman Willie Armstrong said. "So that was that...and here we are, in the sunshine."
There are 15 home matches at Al Lang between April 12th and November 1st.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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