Rhinos add global soccer star Jamie Vardy as co-owner; plan relaunch in 2022
The last time the Rochester Rhinos were on the field was 2017. The club announced today that it plans a rebirth in 2022, with a global soccer star as part of the ownership group that includes David and Wendy Dworkin who bought the club in 2016.
The Rhinos announced Tuesday that Jamie Vardy has purchased a minority stake in the club. Vardy led Leicester City to an improbable run to the English Premier League championship in 2014 and has played for England in international competition. Vardy, 34, will continue to play for Leicester City.
“I can’t thank Leicester enough for allowing me to do this,” Vardy said in a statement from the Rhinos. “They know, and I know, that it will not in any way distract me from my priority, which is helping Leicester to be successful and scoring goals in the Premier League for many more years to come.”
The Dworkins note that Vardy has had an interest in the Rhinos for the past two years.
“This is a huge coup for Rochester and the Rhinos,” David Dworkin stated in the announcement.
Given Vardy's global appeal, he worked hard to keep the news that he was looking to become an owner quiet.
"As for my friends around me, I even kept it a bit quiet from them because we wanted to keep the circle as small as possible," Vardy explained. "We didn't want anything to get out.
"As you can imagine, over time, when things progress, you've got to keep making that circle a little bigger...a little bigger. And forutnately, we're able to sit here and tell you what myself, David, Wendy, my wife, my agent have been talking about for over two years."
The Rhinos, a club that once drew sell-out crowds when it played at Frontier Field in its early years, have won four league titles and, like Leicester City in 2014, had a memorable run to the U.S. Open Cup championship in 1999, where the Rhinos defeated four MLS clubs to claim the cup. The Rhinos went dormant after the 2017 season, citing financial reasons and an inability to work with the city of Rochester on a lease for the downtown soccer stadium, now known as the Rochester Community Sports Complex.
“I’ve been looking at opportunities in the United States for a while, but there was something about Rochester and the Rhinos that just felt right,” Vardy said. “I love the story of the U.S. Open Cup win, and although the club has been through some difficult years since, in a way that makes this more appealing.”
There has been much speculation on whether the club was going to return to action, and Wendy Dworkin was aware of that. Wendy said the club was being 'trashed' on social media for the past two years, and it was hard to read, given that big news was happening behind the scenes that they couldn't share.
"We're here in the east coast, some of the people we are working with are on the west coast, Jamie and his team are in the UK, so it's been a 7-days-a-week, 24/7 thing that we've been hiding for so long," Wendy Dworkin said. "Now I feel like it's a rebirth, and we can go forward with the best possible scenarios going forward."
Part of moving forward is hiring a head coach and chief business officer. The club says that Lee Tucker, who helped run Vardy’s V9 academy, will be the club’s sporting director.
The Rhinos will undergo a rebrand and return to action in 2022, but the club will not play downtown, instaead making its home at the Empire United Soccer complex in Henrietta, with a goal of finding a permanent home somewhere in Monroe County.
"Right now, the downtown stadium is not what we're exploring," David Dworkin said, when asked about future stadium plans. "Things change and right now it's not the downtown spot, it's somewhere else in Monroe County."