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Bloomington Arena Loses Indoor Football Games This Spring

Bloomington Edge
Players during a Bloomington Edge game in 2017.

An ongoing legal dispute will stop Bloomington’s indoor football team from playing its scheduled home games this spring at Grossinger Motors Arena, putting thousands of dollars at risk for the city-owned venue.

The contract dispute between the team and its former league, Champions Indoor Football (CIF), had already kept the Edge from joining the Indoor Football League (IFL) as planned for the 2018 season. The Edge was hoping to still play this spring, independent from the IFL.

After an expanded injunction issued this month by an Iowa judge, the Edge won’t play any home games this spring (except for an intrasquad Red/Blue game this Sunday). The Feb. 9 court order will “prohibit the (Edge) from playing indoor or ‘arena’ football games of any type during the 2018 indoor football season against any IFL teams whether such games be played at home or away whether or not the Defendants are a member of the IFL and whether or not the games are considered a league game, exhibition game or independent scheduled game.”

Edge General Manager Charles Welde said Thursday the team plans to play its games in the summer instead, starting July 7. The Edge will not be part of any league, he said.

Indoor football has been part of the mix at Grossinger Motors Arena from the very beginning, when the building opened as the U.S. Cellular Coliseum. The team has changed names and ownership several times.

There were six Edge home games in 2017, plus a preseason game. Each game averaged around a $3,800 profit for the arena, city records show. The arena, which has been managed by VenuWorks since 2016, has struggled to turn an operating profit in recent years. Its former managers now face criminal charges.

That revenue won’t be permanently lost if the Edge do indeed play their summer games at the arena as planned. The “glass half-full” view of the injunction is that the Edge will now bring visitors to the arena in the summer, a slower period typically with fewer events, said arena executive director Lynn Cannon.

“This puts a big dent in a big hole in our schedule,” she said.

The arena lost several Central Illinois Flying Aces home games in 2017 due to a long-delayed repair project in the building. Cannon said hockey and indoor football remain important tenants at the building.

“But we have 365 nights a year we’re looking to fill, and six Edge home dates isn’t going to do it for us,” said Cannon. “We’re always seeking other programming to fill those other dates.”

Both the IFL and CIF indoor football seasons typically run February/March to June. The Edge played in the CIF for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

The dispute began in 2017, as CIF and IFL officials discussed merging their two leagues, court records show. Those merger talks ended unsuccessfully in September 2017, when the Edge decided not to return to the CIF in 2018. Two months later, Bloomington appeared on the IFL’s 2018 schedule. The CIF took them to court, alleging breach of contract and violating noncompete provisions in their agreement.

That dispute led to the Feb. 9 expanded injunction. Welde had testified that his team lost tens of thousands of dollars during the 2017 season, and not being allowed to join the IFL for 2018 would cost the team season ticket sales and sponsor fees, court records show. He also testified that it would be difficult to restart the team in 2019 if it wasn’t allowed to play in the IFL, records show.

Instead of continuing with litigation, Welde said moving games to the summer became a more attractive option. A summer season gives the team more opportunities to practice at the arena itself, with less competition for the space from hockey and concerts, he said. The delayed start also addresses a community need for more youth events and activities in the summer, he said.

“How many more events can we get involved with? How many more school visits can we do? How many more charity events can we be involved with? It gives us more time to just keep that positive momentum rolling right along,” Welde said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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