Arena football is coming to Consol Energy Center

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The Arena Football League championship game tonight, with Tampa Bay playing at Spokane, Wash., might not register with Pittsburgh fans under normal circumstances.

Now there is a reason to pay attention.

Officials will be at a news conference at Consol Energy Center this morning to announce details about a new Arena League franchise that will begin play in April at the new arena. A national announcement will be made tonight during the ArenaBowl, which is being televised by the NFL Network.

The indoor football franchise is the second full-time occupant at the new arena. The Penguins are not involved in the ownership of the AFL team.

Consol Energy Center -- which opened this week with two Paul McCartney concerts -- has landed part of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament and the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four hockey championships, and the Penguins are hopeful of luring other events such as the NHL All-Star Game, the NHL draft, various other NCAA championships, national and world Olympic championships and Olympic trials.

Steelers Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann is part of the ownership group for the AFL team. That group and other details, including the team name and logo, will be presented today.

The AFL season, which has games mostly Fridays and Saturdays, begins just before the Penguins would be entering the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the football team will adjust its schedule, if necessary, to avoid conflicts.

The AFL, or the local team officials, will be responsible for outfitting Consol Energy Center with the artificial turf, padded walls and other equipment needed.

The indoor game is a condensed, high-scoring version of outdoor football, with eight players on a side.

The Pittsburgh Gladiators were an original Arena League team and played at the Civic Arena from 1987-90 before moving to Tampa.

The AFL has produced NFL players over the years. Former Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox, who came through the AFL and the defunct XFL, is probably the most recognizable name locally, and quarterback Kurt Warner could serve as the poster boy for AFL alumni who have had success in the NFL. He won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams.

The AFL has had financial difficulties. It folded in 2008, was idle in '09, then was bought by a lower-level indoor football league and brought back this year, complete with an NFL Network contract.

The Pittsburgh franchise will be part of an expansion. The 15 teams that played in 2010 stretch across the country in markets of various sizes. The closest, the Cleveland Gladiators, have a familiar name and offer an age-old rivalry.

Shelly Anderson: or 412-263-1721.


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