Indoor football team coming to county in ‘07

Thursday, June 1, 2006

A new professional football team will begin play in Prince George’s County next year when the Chesapeake Tide joins the Great Lakes Indoor Football League. The team will play home games at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.

The six-team league, which is based in North Canton, Ohio, made the announcement Friday. The Tide’s owner is Martin Johnson, a St. Mary’s County native and Salisbury State graduate who runs McKenzie Christopher Associates, an IT firm based in Glen Burnie. Jeff Golas, an Anne Arundel County police officer, will serve as general manager.

Johnson and Golas previously were associated with the Anne Arundel Admirals of the semi-pro Diamond Football League. Johnson was a running back and Golas was the Admirals owner, but said he is in the process of relinquishing ownership as he turns his attention to the Tide.

The GLIFL is one of several pro indoor football leagues in the country and is in its inaugural season this spring with teams in Battle Creek, Mich., Lehigh Valley (Souderton, Pa.), Marion, Ohio, New York City, Port Huron, Mich., and Rochester, N.Y. Another expansion team is planned for next season in Muskegon, Mich.

According to the league’s Web site, teams pay a $25,000 franchise fee and a $1,000 monthly league fee. Golas said the league has a salary range of $100 to $300 per player per game. The active roster includes 19 players, and each team also may carry five non-paid practice squad players.

‘‘A lot of what could make us a successful venture comes down to being able to bring in good talent, local talent and having the financial backing to do things in a respectable but aggressive way,” Johnson said. ‘‘Too many teams jump out of the gate too quickly and spend all they have up front expecting for there to be a payoff down the road. To me, that’s not a feasible option. The Great Lakes League wants the franchises to be successful, and the way to do that is to not strap those franchises financially.”

Pro indoor football has gained a dubious reputation because of its instability. While the top indoor circuit, the Arena Football League, has a 20-year history, a national television contract with NBC and even an officially licensed video game, several smaller leagues have struggled.

The 22-team National Indoor Football League has seen clubs unable to pay players. Last week, the Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat reported that the Atlantic Indoor Football League’s Johnstown Riverhawks won a 68-0 decision against a non-league team that was hastily formed by the league’s management to fill a vacancy on the Riverhawks’ schedule. The open date arose because another AIFL team, the Syracuse (N.Y.) Soldiers, folded in mid season.

Golas said he and Johnson are aware of the pitfalls.

‘‘One of the things we looked at the most, especially when there are teams not paying their players — that goes to one thing: management.” Golas said. ‘‘If you look at the teams that have struggled or failed, they have a history of poor management that has failed in other places. Marty is a business guy. We did look at a lot of teams and why they failed. We feel like we’re prepared to approach this the right way and handle things they way they should be handled, in terms of press and PR and advertising and making sure people know the team is there.”

Golas said the league’s schedule and low salary structure should work in the team’s favor.

‘‘[In April] Basketball is over, hockey is over. For the diehard football fans between Baltimore and Washington, there’s a lot of time left until [NFL] training camp starts, and we can fill that void,” Golas said. ‘‘And in the Great Lakes League, you don’t have to sell out. Show Place holds 5,200. We can be around 2,000 a game and be very successful. That’s what the league costs allow you to do.”

According to league figures, the GLIFL’s average attendance this season is just over 2,400.

Golas said the team would look to have its coaching staff in place by July, and Johnson said he hoped tryouts would begin in September or October.

‘‘Without a doubt, finding local talent and coaches is probably going to be a No. 1 priority for us,” Golas said. ‘‘Because of [my involvement in the Diamond Football League] I’ve been associated with several [semi-pro] outdoor teams that play in Prince George’s County. So finding players who grew up in the area will not be a problem.”

The Tide plans a press conference at 11:30 a.m. June 21 at Show Place Arena to formally announce the team.

Prince George’s County is presently home to another pro sports franchise, the Bowie Baysox baseball team, the Class AA minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

The Washington Bullets of the National Basketball Association played at the former Capital Center in Largo until 1997, when they moved into the District and changed their name to the Wizards.

Show Place Arena has been home to a hockey team and two basketball teams. The Chesapeake Icebreakers played in the East Coast Hockey League from 1997-99 before moving to Jackson, Miss. The team disbanded in 2003. The Maryland Mustangs of the United States Basketball League called Show Place home in 2000 and 2001. The Maryland Nighthawks of the American Basketball League played home games there during the 2004-05 season before moving to Rockville.

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