Former NFL football star and current local AF2 team owner (and talk-show host) Will Wolford wants to help give Louisville something it has been seeking for decades – a significant new major league sports team. His plan calls for an immediate escalation of involvement by local, passionate sports fans. It deserves serious consideration – today – because Wolford has the wisdom and the Will-power to make it work.
No, the idea is not to lure an NFL squad to the city. With that league already having successful franchises in nearby Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Nashville, there’s little chance for such a move in the city’s future.
No, the idea doesn’t call for an NBA team, either. With the University of Louisville contracted to hold the upper hand on revenues at the city’s new downtown arena, it’s a virtual certainty that a pro basketball team couldn’t survive financially and wouldn’t try.
No, Wolford isn’t suggesting an NHL team, either.
Instead, the former St. Xavier High School and Vanderbilt University standout offensive lineman is sounding the alert that bringing an AFL team (Arena Football League) here is the thing to do. But he warns there’s a need for swift action on the issue if this community is serious.
Wolford, who has been the primary owner of the Louisville Fire Arena2 Football team for the past six years, suggested this week that the community deserves to step up to the AF1 level. His plan would provide top-notch professional football for the area, generate more national TV exposure for the city and add another dependable tenant for the new riverfront arena which is slated for completion as soon as 2010.
“The AFL is now owned in part by ESPN (10 percent). The value of the franchises has increased from $1 million each a few years ago to $16 million or more today. Average attendance throughout the league is more than 12,000 per game. It’s a growing sport, and it could be just the right fit for Louisville. But we have to move now,” said Wolford (Pictured left on 1994 Sports Illustrated cover).
The first step of his plan calls for opening up the current ownership of his AF2 team to multiple investors, offering 500 shares of the team for $1,000 each. At the same time, he says the season ticket base for arena football needs to rise from the current number of about 1,750 to 3,500, and quickly, if Louisville is to establish itself as a frontrunner to move up to the next level in the sport.
“I want owners who are passionate about football, people who are passionate about Arena Football, and more importantly, citizens who are passionate about the city of Louisville,” Wolford explained. “I’m looking to have 35 or 40 owners, some perhaps buying just one share, others buying up to 25 or 30 shares.”
If he gets the necessary support, Wolford would sell the team to the new investors, then buy it back and make the final push for AFL membership within two years.
“I’m not asking for checks right now; I’m trying to gauge the level of interest for both investors and season ticket holders. We need to hear from people in the next couple of weeks.
“We’re doing well with our per-game attendance with the Fire, but the key for the future is to have a solid season ticket base,” he added. “That’s a must if we’re going to be taken seriously by the AF1 people. They’re very confident about their product these days, so while they will be looking to expand in the future, they’re going to make sure they select the cities they want. That’s why we have to demonstrate consistent support.”
The AF1, which is in its 20th season of play, includes owners such as John Elway (Denver Crush) and Jon Bon Jovi (Philadelphia Soul). It pays many of its top athletes six-figure incomes. It’s a source of entertainment for avid football fans in the spring and summer prior to the start of the NFL and college football. It’s a proven commodity that’s on the upswing as evidenced by its arrangement with ESPN.
Wolford himself answers one of the questions this community has asked during recent flirtations with NBA teams – the quality and intent of its owners.
“My family and I are here to stay. We believe in this community, and we want to help make it better,” Wolford said.
He and his current AF2 partners have already shown they can run a team successfully, make it competitive and provide extensive service to the city with a variety of significant charitable efforts.
Also, Wolford, who played for the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and Indy Colts, understands the game and is set to develop an even stronger and more effective franchise for his hometown.
“I want to sell the AF2 team to a great group of investors, then sp/files/storyimages/most of my time the next two years paving the way for us to have an AF1 franchise here,” he said.
Give Wolford credit. He’s trying to stir things up while there’s still time for action. That’s contrary to some previous efforts here to attract pro franchises that have tried to ram a deal through at the 11th hour, or give away the store to a carpetbag-toting owner.
Please make a note that Wolford is not asking for a government handout. He’s not asking for tax breaks or sweetheart leases. He’s simply trying to find out if there’s enough support to justify an all-out push for an AF1 team.
In the first few days since he tried to explain the situation at a press conference, Wolford has received what he called “a surprisingly good response.” The phone at the Louisville Fire office has been buzzing with calls from interested fans and investors.
If the response continues in that vein as we expect it will, Wolford will earnestly lead the charge to strengthen the sports scene in his hometown. Based on his previous successes, he’s the right man for the job – sensible, realistic and tough enough to make some noise, push hard and accomplish the mission.
“It’s not that complicated - we want to put this city/franchise/community on a path to the AFL,” said Wolford. “We are trying to make the community aware of the opportunity at hand.”
The word will spread because the idea makes sense.
In trying to add to the region’s sports menu, the concept puts all the responsibility and workload exactly where it should be - on investors and fans with a passion for the sport of football. Finally, there’s a plan worthy of support.