The owner of the Arena Football League's Pittsburgh Gladiators is negotiating to move the team to the Florida Suncoast Dome, and said he has spoken with George Steinbrenner about involving the former New York Yankees boss in the operation of the franchise. Bob Gries, 32-year-old chairman of the board of CIC/DISC Corp., a financial and computer services company, said Wednesday from his New York office that he hopes to announce in about five days that he is moving the indoor football team to St. Petersburg. It would become the Dome's first sports tenant.
"It's all conditioned upon being able to work out a fair lease," he said. "We're in the midst of preliminary negotiations. I don't think this is going to be a real expensive negotiation. We both know what we need to make it work. If we can make it work, great. If we can't, I've got to look at other markets."
Russ Cline, whose company manages the Dome for St. Petersburg and who has been negotiating with Gries, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. But Jerry Oliver, the Dome's general manager, said there appeared to be no sticking points in the negotiations.
Gries said he and his father, a venture capitalist, have known Steinbrenner for years. "I spoke with George about becoming involved in some capacity," Gries said. "I think it would be fun for George and exciting for the team. He said, "I'd be interested in speaking with you further.' Notwithstanding what other people may have said, George is one of the nicest, most decent people I know."
Steinbrenner was forced this year to give up control of the
Yankees because of his involvement with a gambler. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Arena football, played during the summer on a 50-yard-long field (after adding the end zones, it's essentially the same size as a hockey rink) with eight men on a side, began four years ago with teams owned and financed by the league. But after a falling-out with the primary financier, commissioner Jim Foster reorganized and sold licensing rights _ similar to franchises _ to individual owners.
Last year's teams (with average home attendance for four games in parentheses) were in Pittsburgh (6,789), Detroit (13,147), Denver (9,329), Dallas (12,414), Washington, D.C. (4,597) and Albany, N.Y. (10,177). Pittsburgh had a 3-5 record and lost to eventual champion Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.
Foster said Washington's license has been rescinded and the team is likely to move, and that the league plans to expand to eight or 10 teams for 1991. A franchise has been granted to Columbus, Ohio; and Chicago is returning after a year out of action. The season is expected to begin the first week in June.
Gries said he bought the Gladiators for $125,000 and spent "several hundred thousand more" operating the team under a one-year lease with the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. "We lost money. We (owners) all expected to in the first year. Pittsburgh's a great sports town, but the team drew poorly largely because of competition from the Pirates (who won baseball's National League East Division) and from concert events. I decided I wanted to move it rather than sell the franchise and buy one elsewhere."
Gries said he looked at numerous cities and narrowed the field to Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and St. Petersburg.
"Tampa Bay, of all the communities I seriously considered, is the largest today without a major sports team in the summertime. I'm sure in two years the area is going to receive an expansion baseball team. But for the next several years there won't be any other form of (summer sports) entertainment, which will give us the opportunity to develop the support we need."
Oliver said Gries and Foster visited the Dome on Sept.
19 for the Los Angeles Kings-Pittsburgh Penguins exhibition that drew 25,581 fans, the largest crowd ever to see a National Hockey League game. "He (Gries) was absolutely licking his chops by game time," Oliver said.