Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A new Orlando spring football team would have rich tradition to build from

There are few potential A11 Football League markets from the already-announced states that boast the extensive alternative outdoor spring professional football league history than Orlando, Florida.

- The city’s first foray into pro outdoor football in the spring came in 1985, when the United States Football League’s Washington Federals moved and became the Orlando Renegades. For one season, the Renegades played at the Citrus Bowl, and, despite inheriting the worst franchise in league history and the ’Gades going just 5-13, they drew an average of 24,136 fans per home game. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the Renegades was their Head Coach – Lee Corso, now a popular fixture on ESPN's College GameDay.

- For two seasons (1991-92), the World League of American Football’s Orlando Thunder called the Citrus Bowl home. In their second season, led by Head Coach Galen Hall and future National Football League quarterback Scott Mitchell, the Thunder went to the World Bowl in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, but lost to the Sacramento Surge. In 1991, Orlando drew at least 20,000 fans in four of five home games. In 1992, that number was just three of six home games, including playoffs.

- Orlando also had a team – the Rage – in the XFL in 2001. The Rage was third in the eight-team XFL in average home regular-season attendance at 25,563, and had the league’s best regular-season record at 8-2. Orlando, however, lost in the semifinals, and didn’t get a chance to make up for the Thunder’s title-game loss nine years earlier.

Not only does Orlando have a lot of previous success with alternative outdoor spring pro football leagues, it also is a surprisingly-large media market. In fact, of all United States television markets, according to Nielsen, Orlando is the second-largest (ranked 19th in television market size) without an NFL franchise (Los Angeles is second in television market size).

The two viable options in terms of venues in Orlando are the Citrus Bowl, which, at a capacity expandable to a little more than 70,000 for football, has proven to be cavernous, and Bright House Networks Stadium -- the home of the University of Central Florida Knights -- with a cozier capacity of slightly more than 45, 000. But the usual problems with college stadiums (alcohol sales mainly) would need to be worked out if Bright House Networks Stadium becomes a serious venue for A11FL.

BOTTOM LINE – Orlando makes sense in a lot of ways for a new spring outdoor pro football league, and there have been successes on the field and off in the past. But even though it was a different time of year, the lack of attendance for the United Football League’s Florida Tuskers for two seasons (2009-10) may be a turnoff – at least initially.

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