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Q and A with Andrew Nestor, Owner, President and CEO of FC Tampa Bay

2010 January 29
by Brian Quarstad

Steinbrenner Field

On Wednesday, FC Tampa Bay held a press conference making several major announcements for the team that had been working hard behind the scenes for a year and half to bring professional soccer back to Tampa Bay.

The team announced that they would be playing their games at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the 31-acre facility that is home to the New York Yankees spring training and the Tampa Yankees. The stadium soccer set-up and seat manifest will contain approximately 10,000 seats, including the Tampa Tribune Deck and luxury suites.

They also announced they will start their full team training camp and preseason on March 1, 2010. The team will play five to six preseason games throughout the Tampa Bay area.

The team also released the names of 13 players on the inaugural team roster, including three international players. Teams are allowed by US Soccer to have seven foreign players on the active roster.  The international players are Jason Beardsley, Jeremy Christie and Adam Nowland. The domestic players also signed include Kwame “JJ” Adjeman-Pamboe, Dwight Barnett, Scott Buete, Yendry Diaz, Joe Donoho, Mozesh “Mozzi” Gyorio, Aaron King, Pascal Milien, John Raus and Graham Tatters.

Perhaps one of the biggest pieces of news that may have flown under the radar is the team will start the process of a full time soccer academy that will in the future house and school the players that attend. The program will be headquartered at Saddlebrook Resort. TBR Academy Residency Program will start with 20 to 25 international and domestic players.  Players will be housed and schooled at Saddlebrook, as well as trained by the FC Tampa Bay Academy coaching staff led by Technical Director Perry Van Der Beck.

IMS caught up with Andrew Nestor, owner/founder of the team as well as President and CEO. Nestor took a few moments by phone from Tampa Bay, Florida to share some of the events of the day and to clarify the change in name from Tampa Bay Rowdies to FC Tampa Bay.

bq: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule today. I know today was a big day for you. You had a press conference where you made some big announcements for the team. You want to tell us about that?

Andrew Nestor, owner and president of FC Tampa Bay

AN: It’s been a little over a year and a half really where we’ve announced that we’re bringing pro soccer back to Tampa Bay. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road, but really because we were trying to ensure that this team, and our league, has long term viability. And I think with the accomplishments we’ve made over the past few months, it’s put us in a position to move forward and be successful. Today was just a really exciting day to be able to announce that we’re going to play in such a great stadium and also be able to announce a list of players that we’ve signed that we truly believe give us a base for a winning team in our first season.

bq: Tell me about that “bumpy road” you mentioned.

AN: Well, I think the major hurdle was the whole league situation. We always believed that the league needed to be restructured so it could properly grow. I think it sort of went well beyond that. [laughs] That’s an understatement. Ultimately, we’re happy to be members of NASL. We think the agreement that was made this past month with US Soccer, USL, and NASL was the right decision for the sport and I think that all the members of NASL are truly committed to growing soccer in North America the right way. And I’m really happy that we formed this group and am looking forward to continuing to develop it.

bq: Tell me about that camaraderie, that bonding that’s happened, because I’ve heard this from a number of other owners of teams in the new NASL league that in this, I don’t even know what to call it, this kind of “battle” for control of second division soccer in the US, there’s been a sort of bonding that’s happened between all those owners.

AN: Well first of all, I’ll just comment on I never saw it as a battle for control. I just saw it as trying to structure a league properly so that it can grow and so that it can be viable long-term. Getting back to your main question is, yeah, there’s been, I don’t know, I guess you go through something like this and you work day in and day out with other team owners and you really get to know one another.  And I think that’s really important.  Because there really has been a great bond created between all the team owners where we all see kind of a unified goal in what we’re trying to accomplish in the sport and in our markets. And that can only lead to good things. When you’re able to put aside your specific market needs and problems that we all uniquely have and be able to look at the big picture and figure things out together, I think it’s really important.

bq: Let me ask you about specifically the lawsuit that is out there right now. Is there any resolution in sight and what happened in the first place that caused all the problems with the name Tampa Bay Rowdies and how you’ve tried to use that name for your team, yet it seems someone else is claiming they own that name. What’s the status on that because your new website opened up today and it looks fantastic, but there’s no Tampa Bay Rowdies name anymore. Can you talk to me about that?

AN: Sure, it’s still an ongoing situation, so I can’t really tell you too much about it at this point because it’s evolving every day and I wouldn’t want to misspeak. But we, our ownership group, acquired the rights to operate a soccer team as the Tampa Bay Rowdies. We did that over a year and a half ago, that has not been challenged. There’s a lawsuit regarding rights to sell merchandise with the wordmark Tampa Bay Rowdies and the vintage logo. The new shield that we’ve used, obviously designed by us, those are new and we have those protected as well. So we’re just going through this process now trying to straighten out the situation regarding merchandise and that’s just an ongoing situation right now. I honestly don’t know, I couldn’t tell you a date or a target date for resolution on that.

bq: Okay, but your hope is, of course, to get that Tampa Bay Rowdies name yet, it’s just that you have not been able to secure that legally yet?

AN: Well, we have the right to operate a team as the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The question is over merchandise.

bq: So it’s clearly merchandise even though I’ve noticed you’ve changed your domain name on your website.

AN: Yeah, there are a couple reasons for that, I think it all kind of helps our position. We felt that when we first did our brand design, we were working with our brand designer, trying to figure out really how we wanted to approach the market: should the focus be on Tampa Bay? should the focus be on football club and a more traditional name? do we want go down that route? When we released the initial shield, there was also some backlash concerning the lack of stylization within the shield, [like] coloring, some people thought it wasn’t dynamic enough. So there’s actually more of a brand name aspect to the change with, obviously, and the focus on the “FC,” which you’ll see in the new shield is stylized much differently than what we’ve done before. There’s also a lot of the new green in the shield and a little more dynamic order to it. We wanted to, we made a lot of changes from a branding standpoint based on the feedback we’ve gotten in the past year.

bq: Tell me about the stadium you’re going to be playing in.

AN: It’s a gorgeous stadium. George M Steinbrenner Field. It seats 11,000 fans. It has twelve luxury suites. It’s very nice, well-kept Bermuda grass. The soccer field fits well in the dimensions of the field. The stadium was designed after Yankee Stadium in New York. It’s just a great facility. It’s an amazing opportunity to work with the New York Yankees and have an organization like that behind us. It’s really something unique and something that I think will really help our franchise.  It’s a great location as well. It’s directly across the street from Raymond James Stadium. The two venues actually share parking, right by Tampa Airport. And a good central location for all of our fans from all over Tampa Bay can get to easily.

bq: There’s a general feeling amongst soccer supporters that the Tampa franchise can do better than the Miami franchise. Miami seems to have had the problems of drawing people. Tampa has done better in the past. Do you think that’s going to transfer to this second division team and why?

AN: I think so, I can’t really speak too much of Miami and that market because I personally don’t know it very well, I’m actually originally from Boston. I’ve come to know Tampa very well over the last few years, doing diligence on the market and deciding if this was the right place for a team. Tampa is unique, I think, from the rest of Florida, in that it’s not really, it’s main industry is not tourism, although we do have great beaches and great tourist attractions and a lot of visitors from all over the world every year, it’s still less of a transient population. You have families here that have been in this city for multiple generations, and that’s even true for the Hispanic population, the strong roots here dating back to the Cuban cigar factories that used to be here in Ybor City. You have a big Colombian population, Peruvian population. And it’s not just that there’s a good Hispanic market, it’s just that it has roots, it has real roots, in Tampa. And I think that extends to all the different ethnicities that coexist here in Tampa Bay that it’s not transient here, they’ve been here for a while. People really support their city, and love their city, and it’s a good sports town.

bq: Andrew, you said you’re from Boston, how did you end up in Tampa Bay?

AN: I came to Tampa Bay to launch this team.

bq: Why?

AN: I guess, just to give you some background on myself, I grew up in Boston, graduated from Boston University School of Management. While I was at the U, I met my now business partner Hinds Howard. We both went into finance; he was at Lehman Brothers, I was with GE. We ended up, after a few years, leaving our jobs there to team up and start an advisory merchant bank called Citrus Ventures. We started doing some advisory work in sports and media deals. And soccer has always been a passion of mine; I grew up playing three sports so I’ve always loved sports, so I started looking at different startup companies and mid-sized companies and then in the sporting industry and decided that it would be a good move to get into actual team ownership. So I knew a lot about the soccer landscape just from growing up a fan and playing the sport. We started doing diligence on a few different markets. Looked at Boston as one, actually, decided that where, at the time, USL1 was at, a team in Boston wouldn’t make sense because of the Revolution and their efforts to get a stadium in Boston.

We looked at San Antonio. Hinds is actually from Houston, and so is one of our partners with the team, he’s based in Houston, so we looked at the Texas market and we also looked at Florida, because there was an obvious void in Florida with Miami and Tampa Bay dropping out of MLS. I came down to Tampa Bay and met our now local partner David Laxer and a few other people that were really influential in me making this decision, like Perry Van Der Beck and Farrukh Quraishi.

bq: Tell me about Van Der Beck and Quraishi.

AN: Perry Van Der Beck is our Technical Director and he’s a former Rowdy. He was also, at one point, head coach of Tampa Bay Mutiny. And Farrukh Quraishi also played for the Rowdies and, at one point, was GM of the Mutiny. Both great guys. I got to know them, got to know the market, and started to see the sheer numbers of people, not just registered youth soccer players, but the adult leagues here, the overall sports market. It’s a bit of a college town with UT [University of Tampa] and USF [University of South Florida]. And as you’ve seen what’s happened in Seattle, that young adult demographic, I think, is really important for a team to be successful. And I started to look at all these different aspects of Tampa Bay and then on top of that you have the history of the Rowdies and the Mutiny – even though they’re not here anymore, their actual attendance numbers were pretty good. And you start to look at all those factors and Tampa Bay became a no-brainer. And it’s also a place I didn’t mind moving to. It’s pretty nice here.

26 Responses
  1. originalBigE permalink
    January 29, 2010

    Nester says, “The soccer field fits well in the dimensions of the field. ” Yea, right.
    At least we are on natural grass, well, er, um, mostly.

  2. Required permalink
    January 29, 2010

    I realize the realities of stadium availability often make it necessary to play in “less than ideal” venues. And I realize this will not be the first soccer team to have no choice but to share a baseball stadium. But wow, that is the most awkward looking arrangement for soccer viewing I’ve ever seen. For many many seats, I’m not sure that’s a perspective worth paying for, regardless of the price.

  3. Jeff Wolter permalink
    January 29, 2010

    Another bad stadium for soccer, why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over again…

    The 12 suites are in the next county.

  4. Ivan permalink
    January 29, 2010

    I am not sure how I feel about Legends Field hosting the Rowdies…the set up does look extremely awkward…and there will be no grass around the diamond, which is awful; talk about an eye sore. They better beuild a real stadium soon…

  5. January 29, 2010

    I believe that the design of the Legend Field is outrageous for a soccer team. If this is a choice for 2/3 years and there is a plan for a soccer stadium than fine, if not I don’t see FC Tampa Bay can be considered a credible soccer team.

    Anyway, I believe NASL must follow MLS steps with regard to building (smaller but expandable) soccer specific stadiums. It’s the only viable economic way for the new league.

  6. Tom permalink
    January 29, 2010

    Nothing wrong with the current owner being young and ambitious, although I would have a bit higher comfort level if his first job out of college was more than 4 years ago – at times there is something to be said for experience.

  7. Jeff Wolter permalink
    January 29, 2010

    It would be fun taking the corner kick from the home plate area with the whole stadium set up to watch that one point of the field.

  8. Tom permalink
    January 29, 2010

    As long as you don’t fall into one of the dugouts prepping for the kick.

  9. January 29, 2010

    I’m very impressed by the comments ripping the Rowdies for playing in a baseball field for two seasons. I guess the Rowdies would have been better off if they picked a high school stadium or intramural field with aluminum bleachers, no concessions, no luxury suites, terrible turf, and was in a terrible location.

  10. ERic permalink
    January 29, 2010

    Decisions, decisions.

    Do I use a stadium that’s set up for a pro atmosphere, with quality seats and concessions but crap sight lines and crap dates? Or do I use a HS stadium that has football lines permanently painted on it and crap concessions and other facilities, but I can use it almost any time I want and has OK sight lines (or great ones, if there’s no track)? Or do I spend too much money renting a giant stadium that has good facilities and concessions, good sight lines and I can use at almost any time, but makes my attendance of 3,000 feel like a morgue?

    Because, seriously, folks, until any team can build a stadium (and there isn’t a single division 2 team that has come into the league with a purpose built stadium, and it will be a long time before that ever happens), these are your choices.

    Here’s hoping that FCTB has made the best economical choice among the options in their area.

  11. Tom permalink
    January 29, 2010

    mlmintampa – you reference two seasons in your post. Is there a Soccer Specific Stadium (SSS) currently under construction? If so and they’ve already broken ground then that would be great.

  12. January 29, 2010

    Tom: The original proposal for a stadium was shut down by people who lived in the neighborhood, despite the Rowdies owners owning the land and paying for infrastructure. I believe the County Government (Hillsborough; Tampa is the county seat) shot it down because half the board is running for higher office and they don’t want to piss off a neighborhood. (The neighborhood is near a Lowe’s, Target, expressway and airport flight path. Yet a soccer stadium was an issue. Go figure.)
    One proposal floated by the Rowdies is a stadium near the University of Tampa, which is in downtown Tampa. UT has a 1500 seat grandstand and space for a future stadium. The Rowdies ownership seems to be thinking big, as they want to average 5k per Div. II game, and build a stadium that can expand to 10-20k (this might have been why the neighborhood in question got pissy). I agree that Steinbrenner isn’t ideal for soccer, but it is still a nice park.
    Also, saying this as casual soccer fan but a Tampa sports fan, playing two years at an established site in a central location will be good for the Rowdies. Tampa sports teams need casual fans to be successful and are more likely to show up at a stadium with all the bells and whistles on a major road in the center of town. The other options (ex: Univ. of South Florida’s soccer field, which is the size of most high school stadiums) might appeal to true soccer fans because it’s a true soccer field. But the Rowdies will need casual fans to make some real cash and pay for a nice stadium and maybe a $40 million MLS team.

  13. thesuperrookie permalink
    January 29, 2010

    ERic- can you please explain Rochester, Carolina, St. Louis stadiums? All seem to me like purpose built soccer stadiums in Division 2 soccer, and to a lesser extent the NSC which has a retrofitted SSS.

    Like the junior Senator from Minnesota so eloquently stated, “we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.”

  14. January 29, 2010

    “I’m very impressed by the comments ripping the Rowdies for playing in a baseball field for two seasons. I guess the Rowdies would have been better off if they picked a high school stadium or intramural field with aluminum bleachers, no concessions, no luxury suites, terrible turf, and was in a terrible location.”

    As if those were the only two choices. The University of South Florida and University of Tampa both have soccer stadiums. But they’re smaller, have fewer amenities, less-than-great locations, and (I presume) no beer.

    Steinbrenner is far from ideal, but so was (presumably) every single choice they could have made after they were NIMBY’d on their own stadium (for which they were willing to pay themselves). I’ll wait to see how it actually looks, plays and feels before I pass judgment, except to say that one reason baseball parks aren’t ideal is because many of the seats are angled towards home plate, which results in a bad angle for either viewing or sitting (you can do one at a time comfortably).

    Lastly, Brian, and it’s a common mistake: Unless Nestor was on a boat when he talked to you, you didn’t reach him in “Tampa Bay, Florida.” There is no such place. There is a body of water called Tampa Bay. There is a city called Tampa. The vast majority of our sports teams have taken the “Tampa Bay” prefix as a way of appealing to more than just Hillsborough County fans. But nobody has “Tampa Bay, FL 33615” as the end of their address.

  15. Zlatan permalink
    January 29, 2010

    I’m usually the 1/2 empty guy. I’m glad to see other jumped in. How can AN say its a beautiful stadium and not laugh immediately after. I’m sure its great for baseball, it is horrible for soccer. Fans wont like the sight lines, or the fact that it is a baseball stadium. The players won’t like it with the cinder infield and the awkward seating. I would say this ownership group made a big mistake…make that 2 big mistakes, including the inability to resolve merchandise rights yet. These guys won’t make it to a 3rd season.

  16. ERic permalink
    January 29, 2010

    @SuperRookie — I expected that someone would call me on my comment. 🙂 Here goes.

    Rochester played in a baseball stadium for a number of years before their stadium was built.

    St. Louis is a different beast. They’re using a soccer stadium that’s been around for 25 years. It wasn’t built specifically for them, they just took advantage of it. It’s nice being in a city that’s got 70+ years of soccer history. It also isn’t an all-seater like most stadiums that are generally thought of as professional (Rochester, Montreal, Carolina, etc.)

    And, now that you mention St. Louis, Minnesota falls in that category as well. Exact same thing, only with a larger capacity stadium. And Vancouver might fit in this group as well.

    Carolina is a first-of-its-kind soccer stadium in that it was built for a top level soccer team (WUSA’s Carolina Courage), then had the team fold, and now houses another soccer team. If anything, it seems like the Railhawks fell into a nice situation. Until I hit Wiki (assuming it’s right), I had no clue that the stadium wasn’t built for the Railhawks.

    So, I can still argue that no second division soccer team has had a stadium built for them before they existed. Maybe I’m stretching a bit, in that I’m defining a level of professional that can possibly be argued (mostly-seater), but I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch. That’s the level that’s expected of most minor league baseball, I think (I’m a little short of experience here, so I’m sure you can find a few examples).

    I still think I have a valid point. The likelihood of any division 2 team starting out in anything other than the three options I listed is very, very small.

    But, with that in mind, it gives the NASL one other good starting point for finding new teams. Just go around the country and find other youth soccer complexes with decent 5,000 seat (minimum) stadiums.

  17. Tom permalink
    January 29, 2010

    mlmintampa – thanks for the response. Too bad they shot down the original plan on the Bern’s Steakhouse owner’s land (great restaurant by the way). Something tells me the Tampa boys have MLS aspirations so the need for 10K-20k in future capacity would be wise. The owner doesn’t look much older than 30 (and that looks like a size 8 ball in his hands….) so I’m guessing he and his partners have got some coin. Somehow they’ve got to keep it somewhere adjacent to Dale Mabry, the causeway over to Clearwater and the freeway over to St. Pete. For this to succeed they have to make it convenient for the entire bay area.

  18. Grant permalink
    January 29, 2010

    And that is precisely why Steinbrenner Field is going to be good, Tom. Its convenient for the whole Tampa area. With the aspirations that these guys have, I cant imagine that they will be in this stadium long. In the meantime, they will be happy with acres of parking and a ‘pro team’ atmosphere. Plus – for what its worth – its about 100 feet from where the original Rowdies and Mutiny played and perhaps a familiarity/routine can be enjoyed. If people really like soccer, they will be happy….if they dont, they might think its ‘bush league’ and not pass on future games. We’ll see. All in all….I have faith that the Tampa market will surprise people!

  19. thesuperrookie permalink
    January 29, 2010

    ERic- decent rebuttal, but a rather invalid point (who cares about the stadiums previously owned?) in my opinion. I forgot to mention Montreal and the Atlanta franchise as also playing in SSS. So, to me I see a league with fairly viable stadia, save a few outliers of which only Baltimore, Tampa and Vancouver are playing in non-SSS (is the u of Maryland stadium a SSS?). Like others I don’t like their new field, but in the longtime it may not be so bad, but like Zlatan will surely tell you I am an optimist.

  20. dave permalink
    January 29, 2010

    Beggars can’t be choosers; some of the comments here sound like people expect the Rowdies owners to simply snap their fingers and make a centrally located SSS magically appear out of nowhere. Some people are simply determined to spin everything negatively. Yes, the configuration isn’t great, but it’s no worse than what the KC Wizards are using now, or what the Rochester Rhinos used formerly. And it’s in a good location in downtown Tampa.

    I wonder how many of the complainers were people who lived in Tampa who didn’t bother to show up at the rezoning hearing to support the Rowdies “Tomato Patch” location, a year ago. Well, the blue-haired NIMBYs bused in their own crowd of people to shout the Rowdies down. That’s why we don’t have a SSS. In spite of the fact that the Rowdies owned the land and were paying to build the stadium and make infrastructure improvements that would have cost the taxpayers exactly zero. No, a stadium is too “noisy” for elderly people who live over a half a mile away, across a busy highway and underneath a major airport flypath. Go check Google maps; it’s insane to suggest that the “Tomato Patch” stadium, in the middle of a seedy, run-down industrial area, was going to bother a bunch of retirees and their loud-mouthed NIMBY property owners group, but the elderly vote and young people don’t.

    The Rowdies owners should have bought more surrounding land for parking, and avoided going to the zoning board in the first place, and thus they would have had the “Tomato Patch” SSS built by now, but that’s 20/20 hindsight.

    This temporary stadium in Tampa is the best that can be arranged right now. I suggest people stop whining and start supporting their local “football club”, otherwise we won’t see pro soccer again in Tampa for many decades.

  21. originalBigE permalink
    January 29, 2010

    Hey dave – exactly which part of Dale Mabry Highway is in ‘downtown’ Tampa. If you want to sound like an expert on the area, please get the facts straight.

  22. January 30, 2010

    Legends Field is 5 miles from City Hall. It’s not downtown, but it’s not far from there.

  23. pony permalink
    January 30, 2010

    It may not be the ideal situation, but it’s still better than what the Kansas City Wizards currently have. And let’s not forget that PRI plays in a converted baseball stadium.

  24. February 2, 2010

    I had the same thoughts as most when I first saw the stadium picture, so I won’t repeat them.

    But, I guess if there is any consolation, those right field seats will definitely be the best in the house. Hopefully the supporters section goes there.

  25. February 2, 2010

    Andrew Nestor did tell me this weekend that he does have plans to build a stadium, but they are not releasing where, when or any other detail at this point.

  26. February 3, 2010

    Considering how their last plan went, it is likely a good idea to do the ground work locally and get some prominent local leadership behind them first.

    I’m wondering why more Div2 clubs don’t go with an L shape with a high level of professionalism. They could later expand rather than the U or Box that limits expansion.

    Heck this may even work with an MLS side doing a [ shape leaving a burm on a touchline that could add 10k later, and have a solid 15-20 now with suites etc

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