AFL still remains too quiet on future of Portland Steel Mar 22, 2016 19:18:47 GMT -8
Post by DiamondThief on Mar 22, 2016 19:18:47 GMT -8
March 22, 2016 --
Much has transpired for Portland's Arena Football League team over the past couple of months; perhaps beginning with the fact they are no longer referred to as the Thunder.
By now it is old news that the AFL took over operations of the organization on Jan. 6, just three days after then-owner Terry Emmert announced that he had yet to sign his Commitment to 2016. At the time, Emmert cited concerns over the league's insurance policies toward its players, as well as issues related to attracting investors.
For a month, the AFL was tight-lipped about its plans for the Portland franchise. Especially quiet was commissioner Scott C. Butera who, beyond a scant rosy statement such as "We highly value the Thunder fans and this step was needed to stabilize the team in the Portland market," said nothing.
Of course, that told fans nothing of the plans the league might have for the Thunder. Would they be allowed to play out the season? Would they be playing all or even some of their games at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter? Who would be in charge of the franchise? Would the team become a circus act paraded around the nation (and perhaps into Mexico) to promote the game, as the Washington Generals are when it comes to playing the Harlem Globetrotters? We were all left to wonder what the answer to these questions might be. The team's future was unclearly clear.
The first hammer was dropped, so to speak, when the league announced that head coach Andy Olson and line coach Will Harrell (the team's entire coaching staff) had been fired. Sure, they called it a parting of the ways, but we all know it is truly called being "fired."
After the disastrous firing of first year coach Matthew Sauk to make way for AFL coaching veteran Mike Hohensee following the first Thunder season, as well as a letdown second season under the latter, another move was made in September. Emmert hired Olson, who had departed as head man of the Spokane Shock, who had moved to the Indoor Football League and rebranded as the Empire. Olson was a great choice, having grown up just 90 miles north of Portland in Chehalis, Washington. A former indoor football wide receiver, Olson was known as a firm players' coach who easily earned the trust of the men on his roster. Coming into their third season, it appeared the team had the ideal fit for their head coaching position.
When a door closes, another opens. After the AFL fired Olson on Jan. 30, they replaced him with AFL coaching veteran Ron James. Make no mistake, James is qualified. His most recent history as head coach of the Utah Blaze for four seasons and the Pittsburgh Power for one, as well as his most recent post as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Gladiators last season, indicates he knows the game and is respected around the league. While Olson seemed a great fit, fans should welcome James, who was hired as both head coach and general manager.
So at least we now know who is in charge.
Ron James is the Steel's fourth head coach in three seasons.
(photo courtesy arenafootball.com)
Earlier this month, the team announced that it had hired three assistant coaches, including Will Mulder as defensive coordinator. Mulder served in the same capacity under Sauk in 2014.
Butera boasted in February on the Ninth Man Podcast that he considers Portland an important franchise in the AFL and that the league is committed to the Portland market:
"We have spent a lot of time on Portland and I'm very excited of what's going on there. We are going to have a new name. I've just actually approved the design and artwork ... I think it's very exciting. It is, I will say, it is something new and fresh, but something very representative of the Portland fan base. I hope it's something they rally around. I'm certain they will. We've done a lot of studies up there to see what type of name and logo will work, and ... um ... I think we have something that's going to be a big hit. We're putting a lot of resources behind that team. We love that market. I have a lot of respect for the Portland Trail Blazers and their organization, and the ability to share an arena with them. That's something exciting for us. So the changes we've made in Portland are really representative of what we're doing now in the AFL. I think the fans are really going to have a tremendous experience."
So Butera does intend to share the arena with the Blazers (as if he has a choice) and with the owner with whom he would covet to take over the franchise, Paul Allen of the Blazers.
It should be noted that the AFL is not noting roster changes nor acquisitions on its official Portland Steel page. Other than the scant notices of the coaching change and the home uniform unveiling (which just happened to occur at the press conference to introduce the newest team in the AFL family), there has been just one article on the Steel's page. The team's new official website is nothing more than a splash screen offering free general admission tickets to the season opener.
The article on the league's website was that former troubled Oregon Duck tight end Colt Lyerla had been acquired in a trade from the Arizona Rattlers for offensive lineman Jordan Mudge. By AFL standards, Lyerla will be considered a wide receiver.
Since Emmert owns the Thunder name and trademark, the AFL was presented with another dilemma. Does it attempt to negotiate with Emmert to buy the rights to the name and trademark? Or, perhaps the less expensive alternative of rebranding the team. That's exactly what the AFL decided to do. It took a few weeks, but last month, fans were introduced to the Portland Steel. The league attempted to make the connection of "steel" to Portland. In its press release the league cited the steel in Portland's dozen bridges and the discovery of iron in Lake Oswego in 1840. The latter is clearly a stretch. If you are going to talk about naming the team Steel, why would you mention something about iron? Couple that with the fact Pittsburgh is known as the "Steel City" and the new moniker seems a bit silly.
It should be noted that Pittsburgh had a team, called the Power, which folded amidst a fine levied due to the payment of players "under the table." The AFL has a standard through its collective bargaining agreement with the players by which players are guaranteed a fixed wage (currently approximated at about $1,400 per game, give or take a couple hundred). The Power's players were alleged to have made more than that. The same has been alleged about the most recent AFL champions, the San Jose Sabercats, which folded in the fall. There are other teams speculated to be doing the same; the most often mentioned being the 2014 champion Arizona Rattlers.
I am getting beyond my intention.
While Steel is certainly generic, it could have been worse. Remember, in the original naming contest in late 2013, several actually voted for the generically tame name of Growlers. All bark and no bite.
The color scheme and logos are actually pretty nice. I personally dismiss those who refer to it as "clip art." The logo is simplistic, but pretty neat looking. I believe the logo in it's steel gray and steel blue color scheme will look exceptional on the uniforms.
The home uniforms were unveiled at a press conference last week to unveil the AFL's newest entry (more on that below).
Two months ago, in my previous entry, I called out Butera to outline a plan of action for the team for this year and beyond. Bringing in someone who can handle both general manager duties as well as coaching duties is a good move. Despite the optimism I held in the hiring of Olson, James and the new identity also is a step in a positive direction.
However, there are still some things missing. Namely, a concrete plan of action for the Steel as the team moves forward. We know the team is set for 2016, but the silence of Butera and the AFL in the long-term is certainly not golden. At this point, fans do not even know if their team will be around in 2017. How do fans support their team without knowing if it will exist past August?
And what of the Thunder? Emmert still owns the trademark. There has been speculation that he is biding his time should the Steel fold after this season. It would be no shock that if the Steel fold, that Emmert may resurrect the Thunder in Portland. Perhaps that would be in the Indoor Football League as the Empire, Tri-Cities Fever and maybe even the Billings Wolves could be potential geographical rivals. While some feel the IFL to be a lesser league than the AFL, the quality of football there is strong. It may not be considered by Emmert to be a step down from a league with which he has significant disagreements.
It is ironic that the Steel and Empire have each had to change their identities. The AFL owns the Shock trademarks so, after Spokane moved from the AFL to the IFL, they were forced to change. In the Thunder's case, the league opted to change the team's identity because they do not own the trademark. Now the Empire are 2-1 on the young IFL season and the Steel are about to embark on what could be their final season in the AFL.
Commissioner Scott C. Butera announces the Addition of the Washington D.C. franchise.
(Photo courtesy ArenaFan on facebook)
Butera's map to expand the AFL is to add teams which already have ownership in the NBA or NHL, or both. He feels adding established sports team owners will solidify the league's ownership base.
The AFL, which operates on a single-entity system, is said to be adding three domestic teams and potentially three teams in Mexico for the 2017 season. However, those reports, at least at this point, seem extremely premature. There has been nothing to indicate that much or any of it will come to fruition. The league announced that they have a new franchise admitted to the league for the 2017 season to be set in our nation's capital. The ownership is solid, with Ted Leonsis leading the charge. Leonsis owns the NBA's Washington Wizards, as well as the WNBA's Washington Mystics and the NHL's Washington capital's. As I have been critical of Butera, this is the first feather in his AFL commissioner's cap after a series of serious blunders.
For his part, Butera is excited about adding a new team for 2017.
"That's just the quality of the overall experience. We're really focused on people who know how to put on a game and put it on right; make sure fans get what they paid for. I think everyone who attends a game this year is going to have a much different experience and it's going to be really rewarding for sticking by the AFL," he said on the Ninth Man Podcast.
That is a terrific sentiment for the league and for Butera to make. He is extremely happy about this addition, and he should be. It is a great market.
However, that leaves us with the statements of the Soul's owners. One projected six teams (including the Mexican advancement). The other projected five (three and two respectively). Now, in a further comment on the Ninth Man Podcast, Butera admitted there may be as little as two, but perhaps a maximum of only four. While essentially thanking Emmert for the Portland Presence, Butera alluded in the podcast to the number of teams. Six. Five. Four. Two?
"I really thank Terry Emmert in bringing football to Portland ... he's done a great job in getting that foundation laid. Now we're going to take that to the next level and I think it's going to be a really, really exciting place to see a game. Through this transition we're into quality, not quantity, to people ask me about the number of teams and say 'What's going on; what the goal is,' and we certainly hope to add teams. We hope to have two to four teams in the 2017 season. If not that, to have many more discussions. But, I'm much more concerned about the quality of ownership."
Can you say ... Snake Oil Saleman?
I have heard the term. As much as each of my sisters, I am as much a Daddy's Girl as the others. In different ways, of course, but we all watched sports and westerns with our father. As a matter of fact, I have also heard if from my dad's dad. But that is a whole other entry.
The problem Butera has is that he never seems sincere. I have heard a number of interviews and he always gives good lipservice, but other than the Washington D.C. entry, he has shown me very little. He is a casino runner by nature. That is his most recent and extensive experience. It is his resume.
Also on the Ninth Man Podcast, Butera talked about some of the failures of recent team additions to the league. He makes some good points. He also talks about players striving to play in the AFL (if the NFL or Canadian Football League are not options).
"In the market that I am in, and just the numbers, I think management added a lot of teams without doing due diligence with teams that really didn't have expertise or financial capabilities. You see a team come in and they're virtually bankrupt months after starting. That ... that's something that should never happen. We're not focused on numbers. We're focused on quality and I think when you see the teams this year, you're going to see some really outstanding football because we have eight teams and players dying to get on those teams. So there shouldn't be holes in anyone's lineup this year; that's for sure."
The beginning of that quote is in reference to the Las Vegas Outlaws, "owned" by Motley Crue rocker Vince Neill. Keep in mind here, we are talking about a team whose owner did not even pay his dry cleaning bill which forced his team to wear just one set of uniforms for their one and only season. It is my understanding that there is still litigation between the team and the league.
The Steel open their third season on April 1 at home against the Rattlers. It is the third time in their three years they have hosted the season opener. Despite that, the beginning of the schedule is road heavy and the end is home heavy,
I am not here to completely bash Scott C. Butera. My issue is that he is still not being completely honest and up front regarding his intention with the team beyond 2016. He has helped engineer some positive things for the Thun-- sorry, the Steel. My question is, at this point, what he is doing about the longevity of the team? Is this a third season and done? Will the league decide that the team is not worth a 2017 season? what moves is the commissioner making to ensure that he can grow the team?
Fans want to know, so again, I urge you Mr.Butera.
Be up front with us.
Photo Credit: Portland Steel logo courtesy of the Portland Steel via twitter.
Angi Says is a periodic blog written by the general manager of the Sports Coast to Coast forum. It generally features topics from the sports which are covered on the forum.
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