The state's collection of professional sports franchises got a little bigger on Wednesday.
The Utah Catzz of the new Professional Indoor Football League will open their inaugural season this spring and the McKay Center on the campus of Utah Valley State College will be their home. The Catzz are believed to be Utah County's first pro franchise.Calling the UVSC facility "a hidden treasure," team owner and general manager Michael Curran says indoor football will thrive here.
"If I was a fan, especially in Utah County, I'd get your season tickets right away," said Curran. "I think we'll pack the house."
The attraction? Indoor football sells itself with a dizzying-paced, point-a-minute, rock-and-roll style. Games are played on a 50-yard field with eight-man teams.
"This is fast-break football. There are no shut-outs in this game," explained Gordon Hudson, who has been tabbed as the team's coach.
The former BYU All-American tight end has been the offensive coordinator for the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League for the past three years. The Professional Indoor Football League is patterning itself after the AFL, which has been in operation for 12 years.
"I've always maintained that the Utah market is prime for this type of football," Hudson said.
Local fans can get their first, up-close-and-personal taste of indoor football on Dec. 20 when the Catzz play an exhibition game against the Texas Bullets at the McKay Center. The season begins April 11, when the Catzz host the Minnesota Monsters, and runs through Aug. 1. The team will play a 14-game schedule, with games taking place on Saturday nights.
Curran is confident the PIFL, made up of eight teams, will work in Utah County, although he has bigger plans for his fledgling franchise. He would love to see the Catzz sell out the 6,000-seat McKay Center for their seven home dates and eventually earn an invitation to join the established AFL. The AFL has its own cable television deal and plays before large crowds in many areas across the country.
Like any new venture, questions abound about the PIFL's chances for survival. But Curran is counting on fans to fill the seats, sponsors to pump in revenue and players, at a bargain price, to provide thrills. To succeed, Curran said the Catzz need to draw 4,000 a game, though he is expecting sell-outs. Ticket prices range from $38 for front-row seats to $8.
"The only thing that would sabotage us is fans not showing up," he said. "It's going to be a hot ticket."
Meanwhile, several sponsors are already on board, with others waiting in the wings, Curran said. Players will earn $200 a game, and up to an additional $200 in bonuses.
"The ownership is taking baby steps to get this thing off the ground," said Hudson. "We don't want to price ourselves out of the league. This is the way to do it. If I wasn't confident this would work, I wouldn't be here. This is not a fly-by-night operation."
Should the Catzz fulfill Curran's expectations, they would likely shop for a bigger arena to call home, like Salt Lake City's Delta Center. This is not lost on UVSC officials, who have signed a one-year deal with the Catzz, with an option for another.
"Our mindset is if they are successful, they may have to move to another venue," said Brent Roberts, McKay Events Center director.
Curran originally contacted the Delta Center about the feasibility of playing there. But scheduling conflicts and the uncertainty about indoor football in Utah prevented the partnership. Curran said the Delta Center is interested in striking a deal in the future.
The Catzz also looked at West Valley's new E Center, but that was fraught with potential financial pitfalls. "The E Center came up with a proposal, but it would have choked us out," said Curran. "It was a very difficult contract."
Hoping to capitalize on name recognition, Curran is stockpiling his team's roster with local products, such as former BYU Cougars Tyler Anderson and Otis Sterling and former Utah Utes Ardis Jackson and Greg Hooks.