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Akron contender for football franchise

7/5/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

Team would be part of new USFL

AKRON — The USFL (United States Football League) is ready to return in 2013, and Akron is in prime position to add one of the league’s new franchises.

If the city’s bid is accepted, the new team’s name would be the Akron Fire and the colors would be black, orange, red and yellow.

Jaime Cuadra, president and CEO of the USFL, said the league is looking to start with eight teams in its initial season.

“We are very, very close on four teams, and we are starting to work on another four as we go out on the road,” he said. “We want to make sure we’ve completed all the vetting and that all of the ownership groups in each community have come forward. We want to give everybody ample time to make their bid.”

According to Cuadra, the proposal to put a team in Akron is “very strong.” One of Akron’s aspects that appeals to the USFL, he said, is its location.

“One of the things that makes it attractive is the love for football in Ohio,” Cuadra said. “We’ve looked at Columbus, we’ve looked at Canton and we’ve looked at Akron, and the demographics for Akron meet the demographics that we’re looking for. It’s a great city that will embrace what we’re doing as a league.”

Another of the Akron strengths, he said, is its potential ownership group.

Sean Mason, CEO and chief operating officer of Team1 Marketing, would be one of the team owners, along with his business partners, William Dunn and Carl Crennel.

Mason said his ownership group has been working with the USFL for “10-plus months.”

“We’re definitely ready,” he said. “We’ve pretty much got ourselves prepared for the next step.”

According to Mason, one of the keys to putting together a bid to bring a team to Akron was securing the Rubber Bowl.

“We’ve made a deal with The University of Akron to purchase the Rubber Bowl, which has been accepted,” Mason said. “We should take ownership of the Rubber Bowl within the next two to three weeks.”

Mason said he was unable to disclose the purchase price, but he said the deal makes Akron even more viable for a potential franchise.

“After seeing our vision of what the Rubber Bowl can be and what the Akron Fire can be within the community and within the USFL, it really helped expedite things from where we were,” he stated. “We’ll be one of the teams in the league that will own our own stadium — well, probably the only team in the league that will own their own stadium at this point in time.”

Mason said other potential sites for the franchise included playing at The University of Akron or Kent State University, but playing in a facility owned by another entity would result in the team’s owners “losing out on millions of dollars.”

“We went to The University of Akron and visited with them, and one thing we realized after talking with them is that the capability to generate as much revenue as possible is going to be limited working with one of the universities or even if we would look at Fawcett Stadium,” he said. “They have set contracts, so food and beverage goes to them 100 percent.”

In addition, Mason said, owning the Rubber Bowl creates other opportunities for the ownership group outside of the USFL’s season.

“We can have other sporting events, we can have concerts, we can open it up for multiple things that can continue to draw revenue for us,” he said. “That’s going to make us a much stronger team within the league, because while everybody else is finished playing ball, we’re still making money. Financially, we’re going to be really strong and set and secure.”

Mason noted the Rubber Bowl is in need of major renovations, but he said the ownership group is ready for the process.

“We’re still looking at the numbers, but we’re looking at it to be well into seven figures,” he said. “We’re not going to get into a $20 million renovation, but it’s a substantial amount. Exact numbers we don’t have yet, but we want to go in and completely do the press box area and add luxury suites. That’s probably going to be a $1 million project right there.”

And even if the USFL chooses not to come to Akron, Mason said, the investment group is ready to move forward with plans to renovate the Rubber Bowl.

“It still leaves us with the capabilities of still doing concerts and events,” he said. “We still feel it’s a good investment for us. It’s going to be revenue-making property for us. We’re secure in that.”

Bringing back

the USFL

The original USFL operated from 1982 through 1987, and Cuadra said the new version of the league will operate in a different manner.

“It differs in that we will maintain a spring season. We have no intentions to move to the fall at any point with the league,” he said. “I think the second thing that differs is that we’re not going to sign players to large contracts, nor are we going to sign coaches to large contracts. We’re going to keep things within a very manageable budget.”

In addition, Cuadra said, the league will not draft players who are eligible to be drafted by the NFL.

“We will create our own pool of players from players who basically drop off the [NFL] rosters — players who maybe were drafted in the later rounds and didn’t stay on the team,” he said.

Cuadra said the USFL name is being used because of its established brand equity.

“We used that name because it was available and because there’s a romantic attachment to the name,” he said. “Everybody knows that when the USFL arrived on the scene it made a big difference in football. It made quite a big imprint, even though it was only around for three years.”

Cuadra said he hasn’t had discussions with NFL officials about a league partnership, but added he is open to the idea of a “soft association.”

“We’re waiting until we have our complete business model in place before we talk to them,” he said. “But we will have an open door policy for them. We want to make sure they know they will have unfettered access to our players, our practices and our games.”

Selecting franchises

According to Cuadra, the USFL will start naming the eight teams as soon as they are officially selected to join the league.

“We want to name the very first team no later than Sept. 1,” he said. “The league will start playing March 2013. It will be a 14-game season with two playoff games and a championship game. There won’t be a preseason during the first season.”

Mason said he is eager to hear Akron’s name get called as one of the teams to begin play next season.

“In a few weeks, we’ll meet with the USFL again and go over some paperwork,” he said. “If the attorneys like everything, then we’ll pretty much start the preparations to sign a deal. There are still some pieces of the puzzle that we need to put together to really push this through, but I would say we’re probably 95 percent done. In fact, we very well might be the first team to sign with the USFL. I think that would be good. We’d love to be the first team in the new USFL. You know, to say, ‘Here we are. We’re ready to play football. Spring of 2013 — here’s the Akron Fire.’”

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