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MLS also exploring contraction

By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 7, 2001

The Tampa Bay Mutiny is again under the microscope after Major League Soccer's Board of Governors decided Wednesday to explore possible contraction of the 12-team league.

Aside from committing to funding and operation of the league for the next five years, the board decided to evaluate the viability of some of its teams and possibly contract by two before the 2002 season.

That leaves Tampa Bay, one of three MLS-owned teams (Dallas and San Jose are the others) and a money-losing franchise since 1996, as a target should the board decide to contract. Other teams reportedly being evaluated are Miami, Kansas City and Colorado.

"If there are teams that aren't adding to the overall value of the league, then we need to look into making the best decision for the league in the long term," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. "Our investors take a look at the size of the league each and every year."

MLS said a decision on contraction will be made by the end of the year. The schedule cannot be completed until a decision is reached. The season is expected to start in mid March.

Whether that season includes the Mutiny depends on several factors. The board will look into past market performance, future market potential, stadium situation and ownership status.

The Mutiny appears to lack everything but a stadium lease. The team signed a three-year lease extension at Raymond James Stadium with the Tampa Sports Authority last summer. But the past performance has not been strong. The Mutiny routinely ranks last in attendance, between 8,000-9,000 per game.

Tampa Bay, according to published reports, costs MLS $1.5-million per year.

The Mutiny appeared to be close to a deal in April with the Glazer family, which owns the NFL's Buccaneers. Negotiations stalled, but according to Mutiny general manager Bill Manning, they still are in discussions.

Manning said though his club's future might be in doubt, business has been good in the offseason. He said anchor sponsors Tampa Electric Company, Capitol One and Tropicana Orange Juice have signed on again for next season. Anchor sponsors pay at least $100,000 per year.

"From our standpoint, we're 30 percent ahead of our season-ticket sales from this time last year," Manning said. "We've secured one-third of our corporate sponsorships for the season. It's business as usual here and I'm sure we'll get some positive news from the league office."

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