Doug Bland already had a team in Champions Indoor Football.
He was part owner of the Dallas Marshals, a team that plays its games in suburban Mesquite, Texas, but the lure of spearheading a franchise just 80 miles from his hometown, in an area that was once one of the hotbeds of arena football … That was too much to pass up.
He and a group of other investors, most of them from the Dallas area, are resuscitating the Quad-City Steamwheelers as the newest member of the CIF.
Bland and others appeared at an introductory news conference Wednesday and laid out plans for the Quad-Cities’ first indoor professional football franchise since arenafootball2 went belly-up in 2009.
“Football is back in the Quad-Cities and I know this ownership group is committed to keeping it here,’’ said Ricky Bertz, the CIF commissioner, who also spoke at the news conference.
The new Quad-City Steamwheelers will begin play in the CIF in early March, playing six home regular-season games and one preseason game at the iWireless Center in Moline. Bland also introduced former Nebraska and Baltimore Ravens running back Cory Ross as the team’s new coach and unveiled an early version of what the team’s uniforms might look like.
For Bland, this is a homecoming of sorts. He grew up in Ottawa, Illinois, before becoming the long-time marketing director for Roger Penske Motorsports, founding Xtreme Cage Fighting and becoming the co-owner of the Xtreme Dirt Series.
“I’ve been in the sports business for 23 years. Everything I’ve done has been in California, Florida or Texas so this really means a lot to us,’’ Bland said. “Speaking for myself and my partners, we’re really committed to this community.
“I’ve never been able to do anything in my professional career close to home,’’ he added. “That was an added element for my motivation.’’
Bland became the director of Mesquite Arena three years ago and really started the Dallas CIF franchise as a way to utilize the building. But he admitted it was an uphill battle competing with all the major pro sports entities in the Dallas area.
He sold his interest in the Marshals and began discussions with Scott Mullen, executive director of the iWireless Center, a few months ago.
The five-year deal for the new Steamwheelers finally came together this week.
“At the end of the day it’s about finding the right ownership group and it’s a great, unique situation for the league with Doug having local ties to the community here as well,’’ Bertz said. “The ownership group is fantastic, it’s great to have a market that fits the league and of course a city that loves the game and the history that comes along with it. It’s a win-win all the way around.’’
Among the other people with an ownership share in the team is Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson, the son of Rock Island and NBA legend Don Nelson, and Terry Dickerson, Bland’s long-time business partner.
Like Bland, Ross is coming to the Quad-Cities from another existing CIF franchise. He has spent the past two years as the head coach of the Omaha Beef, leading that team to the league championship game last season.
Ross, 34, said the appeal of starting a new tradition in Quad-Cities appealed to him and it doesn’t hurt that his fiancée is from Davenport.
“It’s just an opportunity to come here and start fresh and be part of this ownership group that wants to really get involved with this community and really push for this to be great,’’ he said. “They’re committed to be here for five years so this is something that they’re taking very serious.’’
Bland also is bringing Travis Wheat, a fellow Illinois native, with him from Mesquite as the Steamwheelers’ director of sales and marketing.
The team will use the same playing surface as the old Steamwheelers although it will need to be modified because the end zones in the CIF are slightly smaller. The team will have a business office just down the street from the iWireless Center next to the Bass Street Chophouse.
The uniforms unveiled at Wednesday’s news conference are similar in color to those used by the af2 Steamwheelers — navy blue and white with touches of red and gold — except for an eye-catching red metallic helmet. Bland said he already has received some feedback from fans about the helmet and said there may be a contest to help redesign it.