A comeback for the USFL
The United States Football League folded in 1987 after a five year run, plagued by franchise and financial woes. But, it is coming back, at least in name; and likely coming to Northeast Ohio. This USFL will be very different though: more of a football version of minor league baseball.
The new league kicked off its national tour of prospective franchise locations in Akron. Portland, Memphis, San Antonio, and Columbus are among other cities on the list.
City offers verbal support
Akron Service Director Rick Merolla says in its current fiscal situation the city can’t do a lot directly to move a deal forward, but he would like to see the USFL come to town. “It seems like it is well run. It seems like they’re working closely with the NFL to not compete with them during the season. It's going to be a spring season; and kind of a feeder system for the NFL.”
Merolla also likes the USFL’s new business model. “Each team is going to have to put up enough funds to guarantee that players and coaches can get paid in case it folds — so they don’t leave people out hanging, as other leagues have done.”
Akron Rubber Bowl could be ideal
Canton businessman Sean Mason made his money in marketing. He heads the prospective local ownership group, and says the USFL is keenly interested in where games would be played. Mason says the Akron Rubber Bowl could be ideal. It has size, with easy access from I-77, and is a legendary sports venue in northeast Ohio.
So, he’s negotiating to buy it from the University of Akron. He won’t say what he’s offering, but took me on a tour of what needs fixing — including replacement of all the seats, and a lot more: “The press box will remain the same, we’re just going to freshen it up. But the bottom will be luxury suites…and we’re talking to the architects about extending them all the way around. And then making a walk way. And you’d walk right into the suits from the back.”
$7-8 million cost
The city of Akron’s Merolla elaborated earlier on how much the renovation could cost, saying an old estimate of $7 or $8 million may be outdated. "It’s probably north of that now, but I know they have looked at it in their due diligence and the numbers did not scare them. You don’t have to do everything up front. You can do some things to get into it, and then as revenue comes in do more later.”
While Sean Mason takes some of his bankers around the Rubber Bowl, his wife Stacey, who hasn’t been to the stadium before, is watching a plane land at Akron’s Fulton airport right next door…and talks about her impressions of the former home of the Akron Zips football team. “It’s beautiful. He warned me that I might say ‘what were you thinking?’ But my reaction is that it is beautiful. It’s a bit overwhelming. But it’s a real football stadium”
More than football
She says her husband Sean is considering the site for other kinds of the entertainment. “He’s looking at concerts. I’m a Christian, and even Christian concerts…it’s going to be exciting.”
Sean Mason says he expects to sign with the USFL by September and then move quickly onto picking players, tryouts, training camp and, by next spring, be playing games. And he’s already working on a name for the team: the Akron Fire.