Indoor football to give Tupelo another try

By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Indoor professional football will make a third try at success in BancorpSouth Arena, as an expansion team intends to begin playing here in March 2012.
The Ultimate Indoor Football League began its inaugural season in February with six teams and has an ambitious expansion agenda.
A news release from the league and BCS Arena said details about the Tupelo team, its name and its ownership will be announced “over the summer.”
“The UIFL has signed off on everything,” arena general manager Todd Hunt said Monday. “We’re good to go when they are.”
This latest development appears unrelated to recent efforts by Tupelo attorney Jim Waide, owner of the Mississippi MudCats, to revive interest in his team, which has been on hiatus since 2008.
The MudCats franchise played two seasons (2007-08) in the arena but struggled to attract enough paying fans. Waide has said he invested more than $650,000 in the team.
“We do not have any agreement with the UIFL,” Waide said Monday. “I’ve talked with them, but making the finances work remains my primary concern.”
Monday’s news makes it unlikely that Waide’s team could play here unless it strikes a deal with the UIFL.
“If we play football here in 2012, it’s with these guys,” Hunt said, referring to the UIFL.
The first indoor team here, the Tupelo FireAnts, played in 2002-05. Waide was not involved with that team.
UIFL co-founder Andrew Haines, a minor-league entrepreneur who handled the negotiations with the Tupelo arena, said his league’s business model is designed to avoid the kind of staggering financial losses that often lead to the failure of indoor football teams.
“Our big strength is our business plan,” Haines said Monday. “Our budgets are realistic, and owners can break even or even turn a profit.”
Haines said the UIFL had talked to Waide – “Jim did a good job,” he said – but did not give any specifics about the new Tupelo team’s ownership. “The league signed the lease with the arena. We’ll have some announcements to make in July, maybe sooner,” Haines said.
Haines has been in Tupelo before, as he was a founder of the American Indoor Football League in 2005. The MudCats played in the AIFL, which ceased operations last year.
The UIFL is the fourth minor-league startup involving Haines and partner Michael Taylor. The Mid-Atlantic Hockey League played one season (2007-08) before folding; the Global Pro Basketball League, announced in 2009, has yet to play a game.
Another startup for Haines and his partner, the Ultimate Baseball League, was supposed to play a shortened season this summer but its website says the league will begin play in 2012.
The new Tupelo team, when its hits the 50-yard indoor turf, will play seven regular-season home games in 2012, according to the news release. Ticket prices will begin at $7.
The UIFL began its inaugural season in February with six franchises, five of which remain in the league (Canton, Ohio; Pikeville, Ky.; Huntington, W.Va.; Johnstown, Pa.; and Saginaw, Mich.). According to press reports, the league owns the Saginaw franchise.
The sixth team, the Northern Kentucky River Monsters, left the league after the playoffs in search of a new affiliation.
The league has announced 2012 expansion plans for three other cities – Danville, Ill.; Estero, Fla.; and Rome, Ga. Additional teams for the new UIFL Southern Division, it is said, will be announced at a later date.
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522 or john.pitts@journalinc.com