SBJ/October 5 - 11, 1998/No Topic Name

Arena football sought for Chicago

The developers of a planned 12,000-seat sports complex in Chicago are trying to land an Arena Football League expansion franchise.

Officials with Prospect Development Corp. said they applied for a franchise to begin play in Chicago's northwest suburbs in 2001. The group plans to break ground next spring on an $85 million, 380,000-square-foot arena in Prospect Heights that potentially could serve as home to three or four other sports franchises.

"The concept is to own the arena as well as the franchises to allow us to build sponsorships with one coordinated effort," said Brian Bradley, director of operations for Prospect Development. "We already own a roller hockey franchise, and we've been approached by men's and women's basketball teams."

Prospect Development bolstered its application effort by hiring Cleveland-based IMG as exclusive marketer of events in the facility. Bradley said IMG has already signed a deal to host a "Discover Stars on Ice" show at the arena.

"We signed a 30-year deal to be the exclusive marketing agent, and we plan on bringing a number of our events to the building," said Gary Swain, senior vice president at IMG.

Prospect may get another boost if former Chicago Bears great Walter Payton joins the ownership team.

"Walter is interested in coming in as one of the partners," said Ginny Quirk, vice president of Walter Payton Inc. "We're in the process of completing our due diligence."

The Arena Football League is based in Chicago, but the league hasn't had a team in its home market since the Chicago Bruisers folded in 1989.

Officials said the 16-team league expects to add four teams by 2000. In 1995, the league rejected an application by another investment group interested in buying a Chicago franchise. The league's board of directors will announce its expansion plans by mid-October.

"Chicago is where the league got started in 1987, but since then, there just hasn't been anybody we've been comfortable with," said Ron Kurpiers, Arena Football League president and general counsel.

Kurpiers would not disclose the league's expansion fees or the other applicants, but said the league is beginning to attract more national sponsors and interest from at least eight NFL team owners.

In May, the NFL amended its bylaws to allow NFL owners to buy into arena football. Since then, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has been awarded a franchise that will begin play in 2000.

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