Tampa Bay Rowdies, North Carolina FC unveil campaigns for MLS expansion

The Tampa Bay Rowdies and the former Carolina Railhawks both unveiled campaigns to push for joining Major League Soccer on Tuesday.

Both clubs played this year in the NASL, which is facing financial difficulties. The Rowdies announced in October that they were leaving the second-tier league for the third-tier USL.

But just six weeks later the Rowdies announced much bigger plans to attract MLS, including a privately financed renovation and expansion of its Al Lang Stadium.

"We are committed to expanding the world's game right here in downtown St. Petersburg, and we feel strongly that joining Major League Soccer is the next logical step," Rowdies CEO Bill Edwards said in a statement.

"We have met with MLS executives, including commissioner Don Garber, and it is clear that they are looking at cities that have demonstrated their support for soccer via season ticket memberships, single game ticket sales and sponsorships."

Meanwhile, the Railhawks announced a rebranding to "North Carolina FC" and said it is also "pursuing MLS and NWSL bids as well as a new stadium."

North Carolina owner Steve Malik said he hoped to be awarded a franchise within 12-18 months and begin construction on a new stadium near Raleigh.

"We feel we are well positioned for this," Malik said in a statement. "The market is ready for an MLS team based on our geographical location, population growth, dynamic economic environment and significant soccer participation.

"MLS requires a minimum of 20,000 seats with amenities in order to maximize revenue, and a new stadium is vital to our plans as it would increase the economic impact in the area and allow us to better showcase the sport."

The two regions are just the latest in a growing number of clubs who hope to land a spot in Garber's plans to expand the league to 28 teams.

The current MLS expansion plans call for 24 teams by 2020, with Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minnesota joining in the next three years, while David Beckham's Miami group has met with repeated delays.

Sacramento and St. Louis are front-runners for two more spots, while Garber visited Cincinnati last week.

The Rowdies and North Carolina FC will also be competing with interested groups from Detroit, San Diego, San Antonio and Austin.