Exorbitant rent demands mean Tropics won't play eighth season in Lakeland

by Brian Ackley

LAKELAND, Florida – After seven seasons of play in the Major Arena Soccer League, the Florida Tropics no longer plan to call RP Funding Center home, according to team CEO Dr. Panos Iakovidis.

Recent proposals from city and arena leaders will make playing there financially unfeasible, and have already driven away the NBA G-League Lakeland Magic who played in the arena for the past six years, he said. Last week, the Magic announced they were moving out of the arena to Kissimmee. 

Despite the fact that Lakeland’s city manager was quoted in a Lakeland Ledger story in January about rent prices at the arena rising just five percent, that was not the reality Dr.Iakovidis said. 

“I can’t speak for other renters, but last year our rent was approximately doubled from the 2021-22 season which was tough to swallow. In recent conversations, they are proposing to approximately double that again for next year, which is completely unrealistic," Dr. Iakovidis noted. "Just as obvious is the fact the arena leaders were no longer interested in retaining its two most visible and anchor tenants. What was once a huge community showpiece to be proud of is now an albatross. Ultimately, it’s the people of Lakeland who are burdened with a money pit that is now unwilling to be a good partner with locally-owned organizations that worked hard to be an asset to the region.”

Dr. Iakovidis said the franchise would look at other arena options across the state to see if moving forward for an eighth season and beyond is feasible. 

The Tropics have the second most regular season wins in the entire MASL over the past four years, and advanced to the league championship series last spring. 

“We’re very proud of our record of seven years of great soccer and entertainment,” Dr. Iakovidis said. “We’re very sad that city and arena officials have chosen this direction to effectively force its long-standing partners to choose another path, but they have left organizations like ours or the Magic little choice.”

Over the past seven years, the Tropics have purposed to be an invested partner in the community with the majority of support coming from local businesses and fans. 

“We will always be grateful for those partners and fans who have invested their time, talent and treasure to see us succeed – we know who they are and regret that their support ultimately was not important to this city," Dr. Iakovidis added.