Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder has purchased an Arena Football League expansion franchise for the D.C. area that is scheduled to begin play in the spring of 2003, sources close to the situation said yesterday.
According to sources, the team will be the called the Washington Warriors and players will wear helmets modeled upon those worn by the Redskins through 1965. That logo features a white and gold arrow with feathers over a burgundy background. The site at which the team will play its home games is undetermined, sources said, but the University of Maryland's new arena in College Park appears to be the most likely venue.
Snyder and his partners paid approximately $4 million for the franchise, sources said, and the Redskins plan to announce Snyder's purchase during a news conference this afternoon at Redskin Park. Redskins minority partner Fred Drasner joined Snyder in the Arena Football League venture, sources said, but Snyder and members of his family will own approximately 70 percent of the team.
The National Football League has taken a growing interest in the indoor football league, and likely will own a portion of the Arena league soon. NFL officials are exploring ways to utilize the Arena league as a player-development tool, and the Redskins apparently hope to use the Warriors as a minor league affiliate of sorts.
The Warriors will have their own coaches and football operations, marketing and sales staffs. But some members of the Redskins' business staff, such as members of the accounting department, might work for the Warriors as well, sources said.
Snyder, the 35-year-old Bethesda marketing executive who became the NFL's youngest team owner when he and his partners closed their $800 million purchase of the Redskins in July, declined to comment yesterday.
This will be a return to Washington for the Arena league. The Washington Commandos were in the league in 1987 and '90. The franchise was known as the Maryland Commandos in 1989. In '87, the team drew more than 10,000 fans to each of its three home games.
Arena league football is popular in many markets because it is a high-scoring, fast-paced game. The game is played on an artificial turf field that is 50 yards long and 28 yards wide, with eight-yard end zones. Fans sit alongside the boards that surround the field. The field goal posts at each end of the field have nets on both sides of them, and balls that carom off the nets are in play. Each team has eight players on the field, and most players are used on offense and defense.
League-wide attendance topped 1 million last season for a fourth straight year. The Arizona Rattlers averaged more than 15,000 fans per home game, and the Arena Bowl championship game in Albany, N.Y., had a sellout crowd of more than 13,000. Next season's Arena Bowl is scheduled to be televised on ABC. Regular season and other playoff games are televised on cable stations TNN, ESPN and ESPN2.
The Arena league season runs from April to August. The league will have 18 teams when it opens its 14th season next spring. League officials hope to have 26 franchises operating within a few years. Expansion clubs in Chicago and New Orleans are scheduled to begin play in 2001.
NFL scouts and front office executives have become increasingly respectful of the Arena league as a proving ground for players. One of the NFL's success stories this season is St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, a former Arena league player. Warner is the NFL's top-rated passer.
The NFL modified its rules in May 1998 to permit its owners to own Arena league franchises in their markets. Officials of the indoor football league have been actively recruiting NFL owners. Early this year, the NFL purchased an option to buy up to 49.9 percent of the Arena league within three years.
Detroit Lions vice chairman William Clay Ford Jr. is a partner in Palace Sports and Entertainment Inc., which purchased an Arena league team this week to play in The Palace of Auburn Hills beginning in April. The Saints are involved in the Arena league's expansion franchise in New Orleans and the owners of the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles are pursuing indoor football teams.
The Warriors seem likely to play their home games at Maryland's 17,800-seat arena in part because of Snyder's connections to the school. He attended the school and is friendly with University of Maryland President C.D. "Dan" Mote.
While Snyder was in discussions with Arena league officials, the new owners of the Washington Capitals also expressed interest in owning an indoor football team. Capitals co-owner Jon Ledecky sent an e-mail to Arena Football League Commissioner David Baker last month saying that he and his partner, Ted Leonsis, were interested in buying a franchise and wanted to set up a meeting with Baker.
Leonsis said later that he had no interest in an Arena league franchise and Ledecky, after meeting with Baker last month at MCI Center, indicated that he and a family member were pursuing Arena League 2 minor league franchises without Leonsis's involvement. Ledecky said he expected the Arena league franchise to go to Snyder because the Redskins already had the football-operations structure in place, and the league was offering teams to NFL owners for $4 million less than the price tag for other buyers.
THE NEW TEAM IN TOWN
What: Arena Football League team, the Washington Warriors.
When: They begin play in the spring of 2003.
Where: Their likely home is the University of Maryland's new arena in College Park.