Tampa Bay area sports fans deserve better.
Oft maligned over the years as a second rate sports town for its inferior sports venues, the Tampa Bay area has struck again.
Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg is the less than desirable home for the Tampa Bay Rowdies North American Soccer League franchise.
And, it’s not the fans’ fault.
Last night I attended the Tampa Bay Rowdies home game against the visiting New York Cosmos. It was my first match of the season, and I was excited to witness the improvements new ownership under entertainment mogul Bill Edwards had invested in its team.
Though the game ended badly for the host team, I was very pleased with the effort of the Rowdies players and the genuine hospitality of the team employees who worked the family friendly game.
In addition, I was enamored with the ease of accessing the Rowdies’ waterfront location as well as with the boisterous, fun loving spirit of the team’s local fan group Ralph’s Mob.
A gorgeous spring evening and an anticipated competitive match brought out an impressive crowd to St. Pete’s waterfront stadium.
Yet, most of the fans like me more than likely left muttering about the amateurish place to host a professional sports event.
The Rowdies’ home, an old retrofitted baseball facility, looked every bit like an old retrofitted baseball stadium. My opinion is that it’s just a bad place to host a soccer match. Here are some examples.
The dirt in the infield diamond was just beginning to fill in completely with recently plated grass. The outfield grass appeared uneven from where I sat. And, the positioning of the stands was deplorable.
In order to accommodate a professional length soccer pitch, Al Lang Stadium shoe horned it in the baseball stadium’s outfield. Not only are most fans required to watch the action from an odd viewing angle, but they’re also ridiculously far away from the field to enjoy the play on the pitch.
My hat’s off to new Rowdies management for constructing new seats on the far side of the outfield behind the team benches. But, they’re only a band aid compared to the major surgery required to transform Al Lang Stadium into a respectable venue that the NASL team and its paying fans would be proud of. And, the weathered seats in the stands that seem a short cab ride away from the field is where the first remediation should begin.
Sadly, most Rowdies fans sit in worn, faded seats far away from the action. They can attest to the jerry rigging of the downtown stadium.
Ironically, fans can clearly see the re-purposed baseball batter’s eye covered with clever Rowdies marketing. And, they can also groan at the venue’s uncovered baseball scoreboard that showcases inning numbers the same size as the tiny soccer game clock clinging to its bottom. However, they need to concentrate in order to understand the, at times, garbled announcements emanating from the Al Lang’s old sound system.
The only consolation is that these same fans are closer to the pitch than the press covering the game. It appears as if reporters in the press box high above home plate need a Hubble Telescope to catch a glimpse of the activity on the uneven pitch below.
The Rowdies’ plight at Al Lang Stadium shouldn’t come as any news to diehard, but embattled, Tampa Bay sports fans.
Over the years, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans suffered through the excessive heat and overall unwelcome accoutrements of the old Big Sombrero before the Tampa Bay Sports Authority built the beautifully adorned Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay NHL fans shuffled around traffic clogged freeways and traversed long bridges to support their Lightning at inferior hockey venues before the team called the gorgeous Tampa Bay Times Forum home ice.
University of South Florida followers witnessed the bursting of the on-campus Sun Dome bubble roof, but Bulls fans now glow when discussing their spectacularly restored facility.
And, Major League Baseball spring training fans survived the crumbling concrete stands of Jack Russell Stadium where the Phillies played only to find themselves rooting joyously, and a lot more safely, for their team in stunning Brighthouse Field.
Now, Tampa Bay Rowdies fans find themselves as siblings of sorts with the Tampa Bay Rays. Each fan base desperately hopes for a newer, shinier, better home field to cheer on their favorite team.
And certainly, Tampa Bay area sports fans deserve better.
MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!