A new indoor football team held tryouts Saturday at Life Quest Fitness in Pasco for a team called the Tri-Cities Fire.
The team’s owner, Kinshasa Martin, was expecting about 25 athletes to try out, but the team wouldn’t allow cameras in the facility.
The Fire is one of five franchises expected to play in the American West Football Conference, a new indoor league that was started by Chris Reynolds in Idaho.
It was Chris Reynolds, who owns the Idaho Horsemen, based out of Nampa, who had been studying indoor football the two years.
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He had zeroed in on the Indoor Football League — of which the old Tri-Cities Fever franchise had members for years — and the Champions Indoor Football League, deciding on which league to have his franchise join.
But Martin says Reynolds decided there might be a stronger business plan to start his own league that involves less expensive travel with teams on the West Coast.
So he formed the AWFC back in October, then invited friends and business associates to join and pay for franchises.
The league has its own website, americanwestfootballconference.com.
The first season is expected to start in late spring and includes five teams: the Fire, the Idaho Horsemen, the Reno Express, Sacramento Spartans and Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks.
Martin said that Warren Reynolds is the Fire’s head coach and general manager.
Martin said the two most expensive parts of indoor football is travel and player housing.
By having teams in close proximity, that helps keep travel costs down. And having most players on what is supposed to be a 24-man roster from the region — whether that’s the Tri-Cities or the Northwest — will cut back on housing costs.
Martin, who lives in Everett and is retired from the military, says there is a thirst for indoor football in the Tri-Cities. There hasn’t been a team in the Tri-Cities since 2016, when team owners Teri and JR Carr decided to make the franchise dormant.
It ended a 12-year run of indoor football that began in 2005 and included stints in three different leagues: the National Indoor Football League, the AF2, and the IFL.
Martin admits that how the Carrs left the IFL has been a positive. “The Fever left the city in good standing,” he said.
Toyota Center Executive Director Corey Pearson agrees.
“They paid off all of their bills,” said Pearson. “That doesn’t happen a lot of times when a team shuts down. The Carrs are one of the best things going for (Martin).”
And Martin said he’s communicated with a number of former Fever fans.
“From what I’m hearing, and what I’ve been told from many fans, they’re telling us how they miss the Fever,” said Martin.
That’s fine. But Martin has a couple of things that must be done before any game happens in the Toyota Center.
First, the team needs to sign a lease with the Toyota Center. That hasn’t happened yet, and usually a lease is in place before a team has announced it’s playing somewhere.
“This is a strange one,” admits Pearson. “It’s coming together backwards. (Martin) does have a call into me.” They just haven’t gotten together yet. Pearson said that should happen soon.
“(Martin) said he’s ready to work on that now,” Pearson said.
Pearson said the Toyota Center wants the team to succeed, and he has a number of different dates that would work for six home games a season. But until the two parties can get together, nothing can happen.
Second, the team will need a field that also includes turf, dashboards, netting and goalposts. Martin said he has a line on a field.
But the Carrs also have one that they purchased a few years ago, and Pearson says the Toyota Center is storing it for them. So there is a chance it could be bought or leased from the Carrs.
As for players, that’s not such a bad problem. There are plenty of aspiring football players out there, and there were many years where indoor football team rosters were sparse until after the first of the year, a month or two before play began.
What Martin is looking for now is fan interest, He says he has a lot of it, and the AWFC is using a program in which fans can buy two seats for two seasons for a total of $250.
Each of the five franchises is using this marketing plan.
“For us, it’s called an Inferno membership,” said Martin. “We’re selling these to 1,000 people. The sooner they sign on, those fans can come in to the lower bowl seating area and select their seats.”
That’s the main part of the Inferno membership, he said. But it also comes with smaller amenities, such as a signed picture of the team, a certificate of (non-voting) ownership, a free hot dog and soda at each home game, early entrance to the Toyota Center on game day, a tailgate area, a chance for meet-and-greets with players, a chance to hang out with the team mascot and cheerleaders, and two inaugural season T-shirts.
In addition, Martin said, Inferno members will be able to determine home team uniform combinations, and what play — run or pass — that Warren Reynolds will call on the game’s opening play.
“After we fill the Inferno club, then we’ll sell season tickets,” said Martin. The first player the team signs, Martin says, will be a local athlete.
“Our goal is to have hometown heroes,” he said. “I want people to say ‘I know that guy. He plays with the Fire.’”
Pearson, who doesn’t know the people in the AWFC, has to be diligent. For instance, he says, he needs to know what happens to people’s money if, say, they’ve paid for the $250 two-year season tickets and the team doesn’t end up playing after the first year.
But he’d like to see it work.
“Indoor football has been popular,” said Pearson. “I hope it’s a good thing.”
Martin believes it will be. “Our goal is to give the community a chance to fill a void,” he said. “I want you to have non-stop things to do, to go from watching the Americans to the Fire, and then the Dust Devils.
“I want to tell people ‘You are part of this organization,” said Martin. “And as long as people support the team, we’re not going anywhere.”