Spokane Shock majority owner Brady Nelson admits the concept sounds a little odd – arena football played outside – but he thinks he can combine the best elements of both.
The Shock announced Thursday they will entertain the Utah Blaze on Saturday, July 9, in the Joe Albi Stadium Outdoor Classic. It’ll likely be a night game, but a time hasn’t been set. It’ll be the first outdoor game for a franchise that routinely packs 10,000-plus into the Spokane Arena for home games.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Arena football outside?’, but to me arena football is the 50-yard field with walls and nets,” Nelson said. “It’s the rules, the style of the game and the closeness of the fans to the field and they get to meet the players. That’s arena football.
“It’s going to be one of those events you want to be there for and I think it’s a chance for us to gain new fans. It’s going to have more of a collegiate feel, marching bands, the tailgating. It’s going to have a special Saturday feeling like for a college game.”
Many details still have to be ironed out, but the 50-yard field with 8-yard end zones is expected to be situated roughly between the 15-yard lines. It hasn’t been determined if the teams will play on Albi’s FieldTurf or the Shock’s artificial turf. Dasherboards that were used for a Shock exhibition game in Yakima in 2008 will be utilized at Albi. Nets will be hung and stabilized by cranes.
The Shock will rent or purchase protective covering to prevent damage to the field from where the dasherboards connect to the playing surface, Nelson said.
Nelson has had the idea for an outdoor game since Spokane’s inaugural season in arenafootball2 in 2006. It picked up steam when the Shock faced Tennessee Valley in the 2008 ArenaCup before a packed house at the Arena.
“The game was sold out and I thought, ‘We have to find a way to play where we can have more people watch.’” Nelson said. “There’s nothing I hate more than having to turn people away at the door.”
Nelson brought the idea to af2 owners, who collectively frowned, not because the concept wasn’t worthy, but because Spokane had dominated the league and owners figured the Shock “probably had something up their sleeve,” Nelson said.
When Spokane joined the Arena Football League for the 2010 season, Nelson found a more receptive audience.
“There’s a lot more thought toward growing this game and building the league from the owners in the AFL,” Nelson said. “We got really good support. Some said that if it goes well, maybe we’ll all do one outdoor game a year.”
Nelson isn’t opposed to that possibility. Spokane has practiced at Albi in the past.
“It’s going to be great,” said head coach Rob Keefe, whose team opens training camp Saturday. “Anytime you have a long season and you can switch it up and do something new … I think it’s going to come at a point in the season where the guys will be excited about it.”
Nelson was told by AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz and Jim Foster, who created the indoor game, there have been arena games played outside, but none apparently during the regular season.
Nelson estimated the attendance record for an AFL game at 21,000 or 22,000. He said Albi is capable of seating about 23,000, but he’s unsure of the capacity because some seats might have obstructed views.
The outdoor game wasn’t included in the team’s season-ticket plan. The Shock began selling renewals in July and the AFL announced in late August it was going from 16 regular-season games to 18, meaning one extra home game. Season-ticket holders can purchase tickets today through Sunday at TicketsWest before tickets go on sale to the public Monday.
Ticket prices range from $10-$75.