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Old 06-19-2007, 08:15 AM   #1
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Default AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

AFL eyes Pittsburgh for possible expansion
Planned new arena heightens interest

Tuesday, June 19, 2007
By Tyler Batiste
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


A replacement for Mellon Arena is expected to be ready for the start of the 2009-10 NHL season, and that might prompt another new addition for Pittsburgh: an Arena Football League team.

On the heels of the Arena Football League's 20th anniversary, Chris McCloskey, the league's executive vice president of communications, recently confirmed in a statement to the Post-Gazette that there have been preliminary talks about bringing an expansion team to Pittsburgh in the near future.

"We have had discussions with multiple potential ownership groups in recent years and months about Pittsburgh," McCloskey said. "The league remains bullish about the market for obvious reasons."

McCloskey declined to reveal the names of the potential ownership groups but said the candidates are "recognizable."

However, representatives for the Penguins, who will be responsible for booking events at the new arena, and Mellon Arena manager SMG said yesterday they have not had any recent contact with anyone interested in starting a team in Pittsburgh.

SMG has received calls the past couple of years from people interested in an arena football team, but those inquiries never got beyond the initial discussion stage, said Hank Abate, vice president of arenas for SMG. There have been no recent conversations, he said.

Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan said no one has contacted the team about an interest in starting an arena football team. But he added the new arena is "going to create a lot of opportunities for sports and entertainment events in Pittsburgh and we're certainly going to explore those as this process goes along."

McCloskey said the league judges possible cities for expansion on three criteria: Whether it is a good football market, whether there is a suitable arena and whether there is a quality and committed ownership.

The question of a market for football in the Pittsburgh area has never been a difficult one, but the last two criteria will determine if the Steelers will have to share a small part of the spotlight with another squad.

"The stumbling block for the ownership groups has always been the arena situation," McCloskey said. "Since that is in the initial stages of being resolved, we are optimistic that the AFL will return to Pittsburgh in the near future."

McCloskey said the AFL is looking to add a 20th franchise in time for the 2008 season, with the prime contenders for a new team being Washington, D.C., and South Florida.

If the AFL does find its way back to Pittsburgh, it will be a return 16 years in the making. The Pittsburgh Gladiators were one of the league's inaugural teams and existed for four seasons before relocating and changing their name to the Tampa Bay Storm after the 1990 season.

The franchise has since experienced success rivaled by few others in the AFL, winning five Arena Bowl championships and making 15 consecutive playoff appearances from 1991-2005.

Not only do the Gladiators hold the distinction of being one of the league's first teams, but Pittsburgh also has the honor of being the host of the AFL's first game.

The Gladiators played the Washington Commandos in front of 12,117 fans June 19, 1987, at the Civic Arena.

Pittsburgh won that game, 48-46, and finished the season 4-2 before losing to the Denver Dynamite in Arena Bowl I.

The league has expanded over the years in several areas, including the number of teams and popularity of the sport.

That inaugural season had teams based in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Denver and Chicago. Through years of multiple expansions and contractions, the league now boasts 19 franchises that play a 17-week, 16-game regular season. In 2000, the AFL started its own minor-league system, af2, which now has 30 teams based in small-market cities, such as Louisville, Ky., and Boise, Idaho.

The AFL further cemented its status when it entered a television agreement with NBC in 2003. In December 2006, ESPN purchased a minority stake in the league and signed a deal to televise a minimum of 26 games per season.

So far this season, the AFL has an average attendance of around 12,300, and the league's telecasts on ESPN have averaged a 0.3 national rating, which McCloskey said is on par with preseason predictions.

Few could have predicted that the AFL would still be around 20 years after its inception, and Greg Hopkins is one person who has seen firsthand the league's rising status.

An 11-year veteran of the AFL, Hopkins is currently an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Avengers. He said he distinctly remembers the early days when players were barely noticed by hometown fans, much less fans in opposing cities.

"We'd jump on a commercial fight and sit down and someone would ask, 'What sports team are you guys with?' " Hopkins said.

When the response was 'We play arena football,' looks of confusion by passengers were not out of the ordinary, and a brief description of the league's contrasts to the NFL -- the 50-yard field, the 8-yard end zones and no punting, to name a few -- would often follow.

These days, Hopkins said teams and the AFL as a whole are much more recognizable because of exposure and longevity.

"It makes sense, and [fans] see it now," he said. "It's more available to the public."

Hopkins, who is a Waynesburg native and played collegiately at Slippery Rock, got his first taste of the AFL in 1988, when the Gladiators played host to the New England Steamrollers. He said he still has the ticket from the game stored away in an old scrapbook and maybe his first AFL experience triggered an interest that has lasted 19 years.

"Maybe I subconsciously sparked something in the back of my mind," he said.

Growing up 60 miles from Pittsburgh, Hopkins is familiar with the power of football in southwestern Pennsylvania, leading him to believe that another pro football team could thrive in the area.

"We've got all the blue-collar, hard core football fans that would follow a team if it was brought to Pittsburgh," he said. "I think it would do really well."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07170/795298-66.stm
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Old 06-19-2007, 08:33 AM   #2
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

I really hope they do decide to bring the AFL back to the 'Burgh, if for no other reason than to give me an alternative to Pirates baseball over the summer.
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Old 06-19-2007, 08:36 AM   #3
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

Man, I'm really looking forward to the AFL if it's coming to Pittsburgh. It would be great to have another rivalry with Philly to keep the NFL Offseason fire going between our respective cities.
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Old 06-19-2007, 08:41 AM   #4
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

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Originally Posted by SteelCityMan786 View Post
Man, I'm really looking forward to the AFL if it's coming to Pittsburgh. It would be great to have another rivalry with Philly to keep the NFL Offseason fire going between our respective cities.
For amusement purposes I wouldn't mind having an AFL team. I'm personally not a big fan of the AFL so I really don't care one way or the other, but ANYTHING is better than watching the Pirates year after pathetic year. I also have some doubt on how well it would do in the Pittsburgh market.
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Old 06-19-2007, 08:45 AM   #5
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

Quote:
Originally Posted by 83-Steelers-43 View Post
For amusement purposes I wouldn't mind having an AFL team. I'm personally not a big fan of the AFL so I really don't care one way or the other, but ANYTHING is better than watching the Pirates year after pathetic year. I also have some doubt on how well it would do in the Pittsburgh market.
I hope it does well but I am with you. I believe that there was a team in the Burgh for one season.
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Old 06-19-2007, 08:50 AM   #6
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

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Originally Posted by lovejoy71 View Post
I hope it does well but I am with you. I believe that there was a team in the Burgh for one season.
Surprisingly enough, they hung around for four seasons. The Pittsburgh Gladiators then became the Tampa Bay Storm. Pittsburgh loves it's football, but between the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers and a smaller population compared to other major cities, I just don't see it doing very well. I could be wrong and it could explode, but I do have my doubts.

For amusement purposes this is a poll from the PPG:

Would you like to see an Arena Football League franchise in Pittsburgh?

Yes - 47% (975)

No - 53% (1103)

Total votes: 2,078
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Old 06-19-2007, 11:00 AM   #7
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

Quote:
Originally Posted by 83-Steelers-43 View Post
Surprisingly enough, they hung around for four seasons. The Pittsburgh Gladiators then became the Tampa Bay Storm. Pittsburgh loves it's football, but between the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers and a smaller population compared to other major cities, I just don't see it doing very well. I could be wrong and it could explode, but I do have my doubts.

For amusement purposes this is a poll from the PPG:

Would you like to see an Arena Football League franchise in Pittsburgh?

Yes - 47% (975)

No - 53% (1103)

Total votes: 2,078
I don't know 83 - financial backing may have a large part to do with it as well. The Colorado Crush are doing pretty well here in Denver, and the Denver metro area only has about 200,000 more people than the Pittsburgh metro area. However, the Crush are also co-owned by John Elway and Pat Bowlen (who also owns the Broncos), so the Crush have some very deep pockets backing them up. And though Denver has a team in all four major sports, all the other teams pale in comparison to the Broncos as far as fan support, much like Pittsburgh with the Steelers. It could work, again, if the financial backing for it is there. The Crush have pretty aggressive marketing as well, which again goes back to Elway's and Bowlen's deep pockets. Another correlation between the two cities is a MLB team that sucks.
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Old 06-19-2007, 11:00 AM   #8
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

Quote:
Originally Posted by 83-Steelers-43 View Post
For amusement purposes I wouldn't mind having an AFL team. I'm personally not a big fan of the AFL so I really don't care one way or the other, but ANYTHING is better than watching the Pirates year after pathetic year. I also have some doubt on how well it would do in the Pittsburgh market.
I think the AFL will do extremely well. The AIFA team in Rostraver Township might start to suffer though. I think it will do very well considering how the Pirates have got us all driven up a wall.
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Old 06-19-2007, 12:16 PM   #9
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is a Football Town. It would be cool if the AFL came back to the Burgh. Gives the sports fans an alternative from crappy Pirates baseball over the summer, who are looking like they will not improve this year, next year, the year after, or anytime soon. It's really sad when you avoid your hometown Baseball team, hope they approach .500, and wait for the Steelers. You can't blame them either. If the ****ty owners don't care, why should the fans? We gave them a new stadium, the best in the Majors, and they still haven't produced.

I say yes to the AFL.
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Old 06-19-2007, 12:25 PM   #10
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Default Re: AFL Eyes Pittsburgh

I would love to have the AFL come here... I don't get to watch much arena football but with a local team that would probably change. I like the idea of the game and it's fun to see either failed NFL players (Tony Graziani, Adrian McPherson, Rohan Davey, etc...) and players that might make it to the NFL as well (Kurt Warner, Rashied Davis). I would be heavily in favor of a team coming here.
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