Thursday, August 29, 2013

Houston getting a new spring pro football team wouldn’t be a Gamble


Houston, Texas always has had a rich tradition where outdoor professional football is concerned.

The National Football League’s Oilers called Houston home for 37 seasons (1960-96), and now, the Texans (since 2002) are representing the city in the NFL.

Houston also has had one previous foray into spring outdoor alternative professional football, and it was exciting, to say the least. The United States Football League’s Houston Gamblers played in the spring and summer at the Astrodome in both 1984 and 1985. Led by Head Coach Jack Pardee and a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly, the Gamblers’ Run ‘N’ Shoot offense helped the team run up 1,162 points in 36 regular-season games (32.3 points per game).

At first, football fans in Houston ate up all the points, as the Gamblers averaged 28,152 fans per home game in 1984. That total fell to 19,120 in 1985 – no doubt a result of the USFL’s decision to move to the fall in 1986, and have the Gamblers compete with the long since-established Oilers.

The Texans play at Reliant Stadium (capacity of 71,500), and the novelty of having another NFL team hasn’t worn off. The team annually is among the NFL leaders in average capacity filled per home game – 100.9 percent in 2012 (sixth), 100.6 percent in 2011 (fifth), 100.0 percent in 2010 (ninth), 99.4 percent in 2009 (11th) and 99.1 percent in 2008 (12th).

Another modern sports facility in Houston is the baseball-only Minute Maid Park, home of the Major League Baseball Astros. Open since 2000, Minute Maid Park has a capacity of 40,963 – but configuring a football field there could be a challenge.

The University of Houston football team will have a new turf stadium beginning in 2014, which will have a capacity of 40,000, and Rice University’s football stadium (Rice Stadium) has a capacity of 70,000.

As for the Astrodome, now the Reliant Astrodome, it most likely wouldn’t be an option now – the “eighth wonder of the world” could be redeveloped, or potentially torn down.

Houston is the 10th-largest United States television market, according to Nielsen.

BOTTOM LINE – On paper, Houston makes a lot of sense for a new spring outdoor alternative pro football team. The history of the Gamblers, the market size and the facilities would combine to make a near-perfect situation for a new team, were it to materialize.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

State College is proud, loyal home to Nittany Lions; would a pro football team work at Beaver Stadium?


State College, Pennsylvania, otherwise known as “Happy Valley,” has been the rabid home to the Penn State football team since 1887.

The Nittany Lions averaged 96,730 fans per home game in the fall of 2012, good for fifth among NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs. In 2011, Penn State averaged 101,427 fans per home game, fourth in Division I FBS; in 2010, PSU was third in Division I FBS at 104,234 per home game; and in 2009, the Nittany Lions drew 107,008 fans on average, second in the nation (fourth consecutive season finishing second).

Beaver Stadium has a capacity of 106,572, meaning the Nittany Lions draw well beyond 90-percent capacity at State College. Coaches, players, media, fans, etc., know full well how passionate and supportive Penn State football fans are.

The question becomes this – could State College support a professional football team at Beaver Stadium? At no point in the 54-year history of Beaver Stadium has it been host to a spring outdoor alternative professional football team. Of course, Penn State’s football team is supported like a pro team – the annual Blue-White spring game drew an estimated 28,000 fans.

BOTTOM LINE – State College, Pennsylvania is a town of a little more than 42,000 – and it sure loves its college football. That, in addition to never apparently even having the smallest appetite for a pro football team, would make Happy Valley and a new pro football league a bad match.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

San Diego has no previous spring football history, ranks near bottom of NFL attendance


San Diego, California, has flirted with spring outdoor alternative professional football leagues in the past, but never has had a team take the field.

The home of the National Football League’s Chargers since 1961, San Diego twice was a target of the United States Football League. In both 1983 and 1984, San Diego was considered for a USFL team – only to be rebuffed for a stadium lease (at then-Jack Murphy Stadium) by prospective owners in both instances.

San Diego did not have a team in either the World League of American Football (1991-92) or the XFL (2001).

The Chargers continue to call the former Jack Murphy Stadium, now Qualcomm Stadium, home. The stadium seats 70,561 fans for football, but the Chargers aren’t getting that many fans into the stands for home games very often these days. Their average percentage of capacity filled per home game ranked 30th in the NFL in 2012 (83.9 percent), 25th in 2011 (91.7), 23rd in 2010 (91.9 percent), 24th in 2009 (94.7 percent) and 26th in 2008 (95.6 percent).

If a new spring outdoor alternative pro football league wanted to think outside of the box – or if the city would continue to give a new league lease trouble three decades later – it could try to convince the city and Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres to use PETCO Park, the home of the Padres since 2004. Its capacity (42,000-plus) is enticing, but, as always with a baseball-only facility, configuring the playing surface for football could be challenging.

San Diego is the 28th-largest United States television market, according to Nielsen.

BOTTOM LINE – While the average percentage of capacity filled per home game isn’t the NFL’s highest, the Chargers still draw 60,000 or more fans routinely. That fan base, in conjunction with being an “untapped” market in terms of spring outdoor alternative pro football, would make San Diego attractive – as long as city officials went along with the idea.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tampa market has more than enough positives to relive Bandits’ halcyon days


The Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida market would provide any new spring outdoor alternative professional football league with the right combination of market size, facilities and spring football history.

Tampa has had just one previous foray into spring outdoor alternative pro football, and it was a successful one. The United States Football League’s Tampa Bay Bandits, led by Head Coach Steve Spurrier, was that league’s most stable franchise. They not only were better on the field than their fall National Football League counterparts, the Buccaneers (35-19 from 1983-85 for the Bandits, compared to 10-38 for the Bucs), they ended up with three of the top seven single-season attendance marks in the USFL’s brief run.

In those days, the Bandits and Buccaneers played in Tampa Stadium. Now, the Bucs play at Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998. Raymond James Stadium has a capacity of nearly 66,000, and also is the home of the South Florida Bulls and the annual Outback Bowl.

Interestingly, over the last five seasons, the Buccaneers have fallen near the bottom of the NFL in average percentage of capacity filled per home game (83.9 percent, 31st in 2012; 86.2 percent, 28th in 2011; 75.1 percent, 31st in 2010; 96.0 percent, 21st in 2009 and 98.3 percent, 15th in 2008).

In St. Petersburg is Tropicana Field, the home of the Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays. Tropicana Field (34,078 capacity) played host to one United Football League game in 2009, and also is the home to such football staples as the Under Armour All-America Game, the East-West Shrine Game and the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.

Tampa-St. Pete is the 14th-largest United States television market, according to Nielsen.

BOTTOM LINE – Would the Tampa-St. Pete area like the return of “BanditBall?” Can’t imagine why it wouldn’t. And while the Buccaneers aren’t struggling to the point the mid-1980s Bucs did, the timing could be right for a Tampa return to spring football, especially with the lack of interest in the nearby Rays.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

East Lansing supports the Spartans, but how would a spring football team fare?


There are cities that can support professional football teams.

There are cities that can support college football teams.

And there are cities that can support both.

East Lansing, Michigan, is a city which can support a big-time college football program – but presents a bit of a challenge for supporting a spring professional football league. The city itself doesn’t show up on the list of United States television markets by Nielsen (http://www.tvb.org/media/file/TVB_Market_Profiles_Nielsen_Household_DMA_Ranks2.pdf) - nearby Lansing is 115th overall - and its population at the last census was less than 50,000 (48,579).

East Lansing, however, is the home of Michigan State University – a member of the Big Ten -- and has a football stadium (Spartan Stadium) with a capacity of 75,005, or 135.2 percent of the city’s population.  In 2012, the Spartans averaged more than capacity – 75,382 – for their seven home games.

Trying to put a spring outdoor alternative professional football league team in East Lansing would be an uphill climb, beyond overcoming the small city size. Michigan State is the owner and operator of Spartan Stadium, and a deal to use the stadium – and, most likely, to admit use of alcohol in the stadium – would need to be reached.

The city never has been home to a spring outdoor alternative pro football league team.

BOTTOM LINE – While the Spartans draw big crowds for home games year after year, it just isn’t feasible to put a spring outdoor alternative pro football league team in a city the size of East Lansing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pittsburgh has limited spring football history, pluses in market size and stadium


The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania market has been the centerpiece of the vast history of high-quality football at any level in the Western part of the state.

Pittsburgh, which is the 23rd-largest United States television market according to Nielsen, has had professional football since 1933 thanks to the six-time Super Bowl-winning Steelers. And there’s no question football fans in the Pittsburgh area are rabid, as shown by the percentage of Heinz Field seats the Steelers fill every year (94.1 percent in 2012, 97.0 percent in 2011, 97.1 percent in 2010, 97.7 percent in 2009 and 96.8 percent in 2008).

Heinz Field, open since 2001, not only is the home of the Steelers, but of the University of Pittsburgh football team, as well. It has a seating capacity of 65,050, and the Pitt Panthers averaged nearly two-thirds of that capacity last season (41,494).

Pittsburgh’s baseball-only field, PNC Park, home of the Major League Baseball Pirates, also has been open since 2001. It seats 38,362 for baseball, and while it most likely could be converted for football, it’s unlikely the Pirates would think too highly of that.

While the Steelers have been around for eight decades, Pittsburgh has only been home to one spring outdoor alternative professional football league team – the United States Football League’s Maulers in 1984. Playing in now-demolished Three Rivers Stadium and owned by Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. (father of then-San Francisco 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.), the Maulers started out poorly and never could recover. They were 3-15 in their only season, averaged just 22,858 fans per home game, and folded in the aftermath of the USFL’s decision to move to the fall starting in 1986.

BOTTOM LINE – There is no question Pittsburgh could do well as a spring outdoor alternative pro football market. Heinz Field would fit the bill for any new league, and Western Pennsylvania’s rich football history adds to the attraction.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oakland struck spring success with the Invaders, but could it duplicate that three decades later?


Oakland, California, has a rich football tradition that spans at least 50 years, thanks to the Raiders of the American Football League/National Football League.

It also is part of the sixth-largest television market in the United States, according to Nielsen, along with San Francisco and San Jose.

Oakland has just one spring outdoor alternative professional football team in its past – the United States Football League’s Invaders. Playing in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, the Invaders strangely saw their season average attendance go down as the team’s record improved. In 1983, Oakland qualified for the playoffs at 9-9, and averaged 31,211 fans. By 1985, thanks in large part to the fall season-induced merger with the Michigan Panthers, the Invaders were 13-4-1 and reached the USFL Championship Game, but averaged just 17,509 fans per home game.

The Raiders still play at the Coliseum, now named the O.co Coliseum. The “Black Hole” hasn’t been as full of late – after filling the Coliseum to 91.8 percent capacity during the 2008 NFL season, the last four seasons (70.3 in 2009, 73.7 in 2010, 94.0 in 2011 and 86.0 in 2012) have not been nearly as successful on the whole.

The O.co Coliseum is the only multi-purpose stadium in the United States which still plays host to both an NFL team and a Major League Baseball team (the Athletics), making a new spring football team a stressor the stadium might not be able to handle.

BOTTOM LINE – Despite the declining attendance in recent years, Oakland has very loyal – and rabid – football fans. Spring outdoor football worked there for a time three decades ago, and it’s possible it could work there again, in spite of so many more sports choices than were present in the 1980s.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dallas draws for the Cowboys, but has no spring outdoor football history to draw from


The Dallas, Texas, market is known for big things – big stadiums, big cowboy hats, big business, etc.

This is all with good reason – after all, it is the fifth-largest United States television market in the United States, according to Nielsen.

Perhaps the biggest aspect of the Dallas, Texas, market is its professional football stadium – the newly-christened AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington. Since 2009, the state-of-the-art facility has been the home to the National Football league’s Dallas Cowboys, as well as the Cotton Bowl Classic, and has a capacity of 80,000 – which is expandable with standing room to more than 100,000.

And since 2009, the Cowboys have been the NFL’s pacesetter in terms of average percentage of capacity filled for home games – 110.7 percent in 2012, 106.9 percent in 2011, 108.8 percent in 2010 and 112.2 percent in 2009.

One of the Cowboys’ previous homes was The Cotton Bowl Stadium. The venerable stadium, newly renovated, now has an expanded capacity of 92,100 fans, and certainly would fit the bill for a possible new spring outdoor alternative professional football league team. The Cotton Bowl Stadium still plays host to the annual Red River Rivalry each fall between Texas and Oklahoma.

A smaller Dallas-based football stadium is used by Southern Methodist University – Gerald J. Ford Stadium. It has a capacity of 32,000, with the possibility for future expansion to 45,000. A multi-purpose stadium in Dallas is John Kincaide Stadium, a 15,000-seat facility owned and operated by the Dallas Independent School District.

The Dallas area also features a relatively-new professional soccer stadium in FC Dallas Stadium in nearby Frisco. It opened in 2005, and has a capacity of just more than 20,000.

If a new football league wanted to think “outside the box,” it could try to play at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, whose only tenant since 1994 has been the Major League Baseball Rangers. Fitting a football field in a baseball stadium never is easy, but the capacity of 48,114 certainly is attractive.

The interesting thing about Dallas is it is the largest United States television market never to have a spring outdoor alternative pro football league team. Dallas didn’t have a team in the XFL or United States Football League, and while there was a “Team Dallas” in the original incarnation of the World League of American Football (1991-92), it was a farm team for the league’s 10 franchises which practiced during the week but didn’t play an actual game.

BOTTOM LINE – A Dallas-based team in a new spring outdoor alternative pro football league would be a trailblazer – and a smart one. The venues, market size and insatiable Texas appetite for football has the makings of a perfect storm.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jacksonville’s Bulls history says yes, but its Jags history says…maybe


The Jacksonville, Florida, market is one that is, to be kind, interesting when it comes to professional football.

Jacksonville isn’t the biggest television market in professional football, ranking 50th overall in the United States, according to Nielsen. That seemingly small ranking didn’t make a difference nearly three decades ago, when Jacksonville’s United States Football League entry – the Bulls – was welcomed to the city with open arms.

While playing in the old Gator Bowl, the Bulls led the USFL in average home attendance in their first season in 1984 (46,730 fans per game), and was among the league leaders in 1985 (44,325). That happened as the Bulls went just 6-12 in 1984 and 9-9 (with running back Mike Rozier) in 1985.

That showing seemingly was the impetus for Jacksonville earning a National Football League expansion team – the Jaguars – starting in 1995. And while the Jags had some success early in its history, including trips to the AFC Championship Game in 1996 and 1999, the team’s lack of wins of late has resulted in a big dip in attendance.

In 2009, the Jags filled what then was called Jacksonville Municipal Stadium to just 73.9 percent of capacity. There has been a rebound of late, however, and last fall, now EverBank Field was filled to 96.8 percent of capacity for Jags home games.

EverBank Field really is the most viable stadium for a potential new spring outdoor alternative professional football league team, with its capacity of 76,000. The next-best venue in Jacksonville would be Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium, home of Jacksonville State’s football team. It has a capacity of 24,000.

Smaller venues in Jacksonville include the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium (9,400 capacity) and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (11,000 capacity), the home for the Class AA Jacksonville Suns.

BOTTOM LINE – When one looks at the box-office success of the Bulls, Jacksonville would seem to be a strong choice for a possible new spring outdoor alternative pro football league team. That success, however, nearly was 30 years ago, and the modern-day Jags have had their struggles at the gate.

That being said, there is a solid base of football fans in Jacksonville, and with no competition from the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball, a spring outdoor football team could have the run of the city.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Philadelphia market has the specs, title history for possible spring football return


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania doesn’t have to take a back seat to any city in the United States when it comes to the goods for a potential new spring outdoor alternative professional football league team.

Not only is Philadelphia the fourth-largest television market in the United States, according to Nielsen, but it also has the venues and the spring football championship pedigree to make it a very attractive market.

The home of the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles and college football’s Temple Owls is Lincoln Financial Field, open since 2003. The 67,594-seat venue features a combo grass-artificial fiber surface.

Venerable Franklin Field is the University of Pennsylvania’s home for various sports, including, of course, football, and is the home of the famous Penn Relays track meet. Franklin Field can seat nearly 53,000 spectators, has a turf surface and has been the site for many football games over the years, including a 1984 playoff game for the United States Football League’s Philadelphia Stars.

PPL Park, the home for Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, is the Philadelphia market’s latest outdoor sports gem. PPL Park has a grass surface and seats 18,500 for soccer, meaning it might be too small for a new spring outdoor alternative pro football team.

The same can be said for Villanova Stadium, home of the football Wildcats. It holds just 12,500 fans at its Astro Play-surface facility.

The Philadelphia Phillies’ home park, Citizens Bank Park, has been open since 2004 – and has been a baseball-only venue in that time, save for the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic in 2012. It has a grass surface, and a capacity of more than 43,000, but with the Phillies as owner, their appetite for a football team’s home games at the beginning of their season can’t be very big.

Philadelphia’s outdoor spring pro football history `is limited to the Stars, but what a history that is. The Stars lost in the USFL’s first championship game in 1983, then won the league’s second title in 1984. They widely are considered the USFL’s top franchise – as well as the top franchise in the history of spring outdoor alternative pro football.

BOTTOM LINE – While Philadelphia does have the Phillies, the National Basketball Association’s 76ers, the National Hockey League’s Flyers and the Union all competing for springtime sports dollars, a new pro football team would have a legitimate chance of success.

That’s because the Eagles have drawn more than 100 percent of capacity for their home games every season since at least 2006 – meaning there is an insatiable appetite for high-quality pro football in Philadelphia that easily can extend into the spring months.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Los Angeles is the city of stars, but does it deserve pro football?


In Los Angeles, California, any new professional sports team instantly would gain entry into the United States’ second-largest television market, according to Nielsen.

That makes L.A. a very attractive “get.” The issue with the City of Angels, however, is this – does it really want another professional football team? Los Angeles hasn’t had a National Football League team since the two it had – the Raiders and Rams – both left 19 years ago.

-       The last pro football team to call the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum home was the XFL’s Los Angeles Xtreme 12 years ago. With a capacity of 93,607, the Coliseum – still the home to the University of Southern California Trojans football team – almost would have to be considered too big for the NFL, let alone a new spring outdoor alternative pro football league team.

-       Another home to a big-time Division I football program (UCLA) is the Rose Bowl in nearby Pasadena. But as is the case with the Coliseum, the Rose Bowl is cumbersome capacity-wise (90,000-plus).

-       One of the more attractive possibilities would be the StubHub Center, the soccer stadium formerly known as The Home Depot Center. The home of both the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA of Major League Soccer, the StubHub Center has played host to high school and college football games in the past, and has a capacity of 27,000 for soccer.

-       Angel Stadium of Anaheim, which used to be known as Anaheim Stadium when the Rams played there, more or less is just a baseball-only facility these days – which basically knocks it out of any future consideration for a new football team. And anyone who wants to see football played at ancient Dodger Stadium most likely will continue to be disappointed.

Los Angeles has had two goes at spring outdoor alternative pro football leagues. The United States Football League’s Express had a young, spry left-handed quarterback named Steve Young, but not much else. The XFL’s Xtreme was that league’s best team in its only season of 2001, and the Xtreme earned the league’s only championship.

BOTTOM LINE – While there has been plenty of talk of an existing NFL team (or two) moving to Los Angeles, it has yet to happen. And L.A. hasn’t had an outdoor pro football team of any kind in 12 years.

The question is this – is it because of the facilities that Los Angeles can’t get an outdoor pro football team back, or because is it because of all the other things to do in the city – sports-related (the Lakers, the Clippers, the Dodgers, the Angels, the Kings, the Galaxy, Chivas USA, etc.) and otherwise?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Detroit has the goods – facilities, market size, spring football background


If the city of Detroit, Michigan, isn’t the perfect market for a spring outdoor alternative professional football league team, it sure is close.

Detroit blends the key demographics any new sports league would look for – market size (11th–largest television market in the United States, according to Nielsen), plenty of potential venues for a team and a strong spring outdoor alternative pro football background.

Where might a potential new spring outdoor alternative pro football league team in Detroit play? There are plenty of choices, only two which are obvious:

-       The obvious choices for a Detroit-based football team would be Ford Field and the Silverdome. Ford Field has been the home of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions since 2002, and the FieldTurf-surface stadium has a capacity of 65,000. Ford Field also hosts college football bowl games and Michigan high school football championship games. The Silverdome, 30 minutes away from downtown Detroit in Pontiac, Michigan, was the home of the Lions for many years before their move to Ford Field. It still plays host to events throughout the year, and no other indoor stadium in the Midwest can play host to more than 80,000 people.

-       Wayne State University, a Division II institution in Detroit, has Tom Adams Field for its football team. That, however, has a capacity of just 6,000.

-       Since there are two high-quality venues more than suitable for football in the Detroit area, there would be no reason to try to convert someplace like Comerica Park, the home of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, into a football venue.

While Detroit never has a team in either the World League of American Football or the XFL, it had a very successful one in the United States Football League. The Michigan Panthers won the USFL’s first championship by a 24-22 count over the Philadelphia Stars in 1983, and again made the playoffs in 1984. And the Panthers’ attendance was strong in both of their seasons of existence, including averaging more than 32,000 per home game in 1984.

BOTTOM LINE – With a top-15 media market size, two desirable venues to possibly play in and a championship history from three decades ago, Detroit would seem like a natural fit for any new spring outdoor alternative pro football league.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Erie’s small venues, market size would make a new football team a tough go


The A11 Football League will have a Pennsylvania-based team when it kicks off in the spring of 2015. But Erie is quickly checked off the list of potential markets within that state.

Looking at the particulars for the city of Erie, it just doesn’t have the measurables necessary for a successful spring outdoor alternative professional football league team.

Checking out the United States television market rankings, it takes a while to get to Erie – it ranks 146th in the country.

Then there are the stadiums within and near the city. The biggest stadium in Erie is Erie Veterans Memorial Stadium, which seats 10,000 fans. Jerry Uht Park, the home of the Class AA Erie Seawolves minor league baseball team, isn’t big enough at a capacity of 4,200, and probably couldn’t fit a full-sized football field.

And the football fields which are home to the city’s two NCAA Division II college football teams – Gannon (Gannon University Field, 2,500) and Mercyhurst (Tullio Field, 2,300) – aren’t nearly big enough. Edinboro University, just a half-hour south of Erie, has a football field, Sox Harrison Stadium, with a capacity of no more than 9,000 with standing-room-only tickets.

Erie didn’t have a team in any of the previous three major spring outdoor alternative pro football leagues – the United States Football League, the World League of American Football and the XFL.

BOTTOM LINE – It’s simple: Erie, Pennsylvania, the home to a few indoor football league teams in the past, doesn't have enough to support a spring outdoor alternative pro football league team.