Tampa's mayor and a county commissioner want time to find local ownership before MLS team is eliminated.
By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2001
Hillsborough County officials are hoping for a stay after Major League Soccer's Board of Governors hinted it might eliminate the Mutiny before next season.
Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman have stepped forward to try to save the Mutiny from contraction, which MLS is considering after another season of large financial losses.
Both have contacted MLS commissioner Don Garber about delaying a decision. MLS is considering eliminating at least two teams from the 12-team league, with Tampa Bay and Miami prime candidates.
Garber has said only that nothing has been finalized and a decision will be made by the end of the year.
Norman, a board member of the Tampa Sports Authority, wrote a five-paragraph letter to Garber pleading for more time.
"What we need, and what we have requested, is a drop-dead date from the commissioner, perhaps a year out from now but definitely as far out as possible," Norman said Wednesday. "Give us that date, and let us rally this community and find possible local ownership.
"The Mutiny is a tremendous partner in this community, and it would be a shame to lose them."
Norman mentioned the new Ed Radice Sports Complex in North Tampa, which has nine soccer fields, six baseball fields and five softball fields and will be used by youth programs as well as the Mutiny.
The Mutiny practices at the complex and is near completion of an on-site training facility.
"The Mutiny has been fabulous in this community," Norman said. "They have participated in fundraising for youth programs. They have done everything we've asked."
Norman said he has received several positive responses from community leaders in Tampa. He said Greco supported his letter to Garber.
Greco was unavailable for comment. Mutiny general manager Bill Manning said he has fielded several supportive calls from corporate sponsors and received positive e-mails.
"I was a little nervous at first because I didn't know if anybody would step up and then certainly (MLS) would look at it as if nobody in Tampa cared," Manning said.
"But we have gotten calls from some of our sponsors saying that they support us and they will do what they can to keep the team here. The best thing they can do right now is let themselves be heard."
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle has gone a step further. He has contacted Bob Butterworth, the state attorney general, about fighting contraction. Butterworth currently is trying to obtain information from Major League Baseball about its plans to contract and the finances of the Rays and Florida Marlins. Lack of a local owner, something the Mutiny has tried to secure since its inception in 1996, and an unfavorable lease are the main reasons Tampa Bay is a candidate to be eliminated. In May, the Mutiny signed a three-year lease extension at Raymond James Stadium. It calls for the team to pay $30,000 per game to the Tampa Sports Authority.
Garber has had conversations with the Glazers, owners of the Buccaneers, as far back as last season.
But negotiations fell through during the summer.
"The big thing that obviously hurts us is a lack of local ownership," Manning said.
Training camps open Jan.15, and the league still must finalize its 2002 schedule.
While MLS decides, Mutiny players and employees are in limbo.
"They're not telling the players anything," said midfielder Steve Ralston, the only player who has been with the team since 1996.
"It would be nice to know what's going on. Do we need to sell our houses? People ask me about what's going on all the time, and I don't know what to tell them."