ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - It was a big win for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but not on the field. Their Tuesday night victory came from Pinellas County voting booths.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to allow the St. Pete City Council to give the rights to the stadium over to team owner Bill Edwards.
The vote was 87 percent to 13 percent; a margin they hope will send a message to MLS. Team management hopes the MLS commissioner takes it as a message that the city would support a franchise.
"We stand for soccer," said former St. Pete Mayor and Rowdies spokesman Rick Baker. "I don't know what more you can do from a community support to show MLS that we are serious."
City councilors now have the right to lease Al Lang Stadium to owner Bill Edwards, who has pledged hundreds of millions of his own money to renovate the stadium and pay the league entry fee.
"The private money really was the tipping point for me in voting yes," said voter Dennis Shelt.
The Rowdies are in a pool with 12 cities, including Charlotte, Detroit, Phoenix and San Diego, to gain a Major League Soccer team.
The Rowdies argue that as the 11th biggest media market, Tampa Bay is the biggest still without an MLS team and that the vote shows the league that the Rowdies will have a stadium if granted a franchise.
For instance, last month St. Louis voters blocked a similar proposal, likely eliminating them.
"The signs that I look for are, are we beating the criteria they set out? And with what we have done, as a city, today, I think we should be in good shape," said Baker.
Stadium negotiations won't likely happen if and until the league grants the franchise, with 2020 the earliest possible kickoff.
They expect to hear by late fall.
City leaders say MLS would bring attention and business to a city that is watching its other pro sports team, the Rays, flirt with leaving.
"We have passionate people here," said voter Nick Ast. "Whether we root for teams outside the state, I feel like we need one here. I feel like it would do the city some good."