Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Pro football to call Hampton Roads home? Possibly

Sportsplex and Hometown staff already have experience getting ready for the big game (Courtesy photo/Virginia Beach Sportsplex)
Sportsplex and Hometown staff already have experience getting ready for the big game (Courtesy Photo/Virginia Beach Sportsplex)

VIRGINIA BEACH — What are the chances that pro football could be headed to Hampton Roads? Well, it is one of the most populated regions in the United States and one that doesn’t have at least one professional sports team. With its 1.7 million residents and no NFL team closer than Washington DC — nearly 200 miles away — it seems like a place to be considered.

Despite not having a professional team to call its own, the area is a hotbed for high school football, with local talent dotting the rosters of powerhouse college teams like Ohio StateFlorida State, and the home-state Virginia Tech Hokies.

If you’re a pro football fan — or even a pro wrestling fan — then you’re probably aware that WWE head honcho Vince McMahon has announced that in 2020 he’s bringing back the XFL, which played one season of professional football back in 2001. However, it appears that this time the league, which was best known for cheerleaders and free-styling players with names like “He Hate Me” won’t be quite so… extreme.

The XFL plans to field eight teams initially, with the league itself owning the squads.

So does the area have a shot?

Virginia Beach resident Gabriel Dyson certainly hopes so. Dyson has even started an
online petition in support of locating a team here.

“The Hampton Roads area has proven that it can show its support for a football team with the UFL’s Virginia Destroyers, but with the league folding in the franchise’s first year we never got a chance to see how it could grow,” Dyson wrote in the petition. “Let’s bring pro football back to the 757. Let’s bring the XFL to Hampton Roads.”

So far, the petition, which has been posted for about a month, shows 56 “signatures” and 50 “supporters.” The Virginia Destroyers, part of the United Football League that folded in 2012, were based in Virginia Beach during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, playing home games at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex.

Although the venue officially seats about 6,000 it was temporarily expanded for the Destroyer’s inaugural game and just over 12,000 fans showed up. When the team played in the 2011 Championship Game, 14,172 fans were in attendance.

“We think we could be a good fit for the XFL,” said Chuck Thornton, managing partner
of hometown sports management, which operates the Virginia Beach Sportsplex. Although they haven’t yet heard from anyone associated with the league, that doesn’t mean they’re sitting idly by.

“We haven’t been contacted, but we have tried to reach out to them through some back
channels to some people we know,” Thornton said. The UFL, he added, put the Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads on the map.

“We could’ve sold 20,000-25,000 seats. It really showed how much of a football town we
are,” he said.

Sportsplex and Hometown staff already have experience getting ready for the big game: They’ve dealt with a company in Richmond that rents out temporary bleachers for expanding seating, and made a deal with the nearby Virginia Beach Amphitheater for additional parking.

When the Destroyers played home games shuttles ran back and forth from the parking lots to the stadium.

As for the XFL, in a statement a spokesman said that the league is targeting both major
and mid-major markets across the U.S., “based on population, fan affinity, and venues,” among other factors.

Lou D’Ermilio of LOUD Communications, which is providing communications
services for the XFL, declined to provide any additional information at this time.

How Hampton Roads ranks in population is known: it’s the 37th largest metro region in
the nation. For now though “fan affinity” and “venues” remain a wildcard, so whether the area is on a possible list of potential XFL locations is yet to be seen.

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