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Opinion

Rubber Bowl will bounce back from USFL disappointment, says stadium owner

8/1/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

On the Mark — By Craig Marks

We know what you’re supposed to do when life hands you lemons. But what do you do when you buy a lemonade stand and the guy with all the lemons is taken away by the cops?

Earlier this year, Sean Mason completed the purchase of the Rubber Bowl with the intent of putting a football team in it. All signs pointed to that team — tentatively named the Akron Fire — playing in the U.S. Football League (USFL), a long-dormant league being brought back to life by California businessman Jaime Cuadra.

Last month, Cuadra pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $1 million. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune website, “In court documents, Cuadra admitted that he used the embezzled funds to attract league investors and pay league executives and marketing and public relations fees.”

“I was pretty shocked,” said Mason, president of the Canton-based Team1 Marketing Group. “It was definitely unexpected. I’ve been talking to those guys and working with them for so long. It’s disappointing.”

The USFL still plans to make a go of it, but without the Akron Fire.

“From what I see, they are going to go with five teams, but they’re going to be league owned,” said Mason. “I’m not sure how that structure will work with them. It takes a lot of money to put out five league-owned teams, and if you’re having money problems in the beginning, it will be pretty hard to do that.”

But the USFL is no longer Mason’s concern. Fire or no Fire, he has a 73-year-old stadium to revive. He says he is working with the Ohio High School Athletic Association about possibly hosting playoff games. He’s had talks with other leagues and is exploring other ways of bringing football to Akron.

“We’re just going to keep plugging away,” said Mason. “We have some great things in the works with other sporting events and concerts.”

Mason is planning kick-off concerts for the stadium July 3-6, 2014.

“We’ll have a big concert on Saturday and some local acts throughout the rest of the weekend,” he said.

Renovation work is continuing. Mason said the concourse has been sandblasted and gutted, and work has moved to the top of the stadium. Vandalism that took place before the purchase hasn’t made the job easier.

“Cosmetically, it was in bad shape from what the kids had done, busting up stuff,” he said. “But structurally, it’s solid, so we don’t have a lot of structural issues. That’s why we thought it was safe to go ahead and make that purchase.”

If only the USFL were structurally sound. Still, Mason said he has no regrets. He said he’s gotten letters of support from some local unions and the city of Akron. No company has yet come forward to buy the naming rights to the stadium, though he hopes that will happen once the renovations are further along.

“We feel we’re in a good position,” he said. “We have our lenders in place. We feel good about everything in the process. It has been slow, but maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe if things got too fast, they’d be chaotic for us. We’ve stepped back and are letting the process move along as it does.”

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