Indoor football team eyes Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — There’s some big news brewing at Middlebury’s Memorial Sports Center.
Friends of Middlebury Hockey President Michael McAuliffe (pictured) on Monday confirmed an “agreement in principle” calling for a new, professional arena football team called the “Vermont Brew” to play its home games at the center, starting in March of 2020.
It’s a relationship that could boost the local economy, give the Memorial Sports Center financial security and provide a local showcase for some very talented players looking to take the next step in their respective professional football careers.
“They love the matching factors of a vibrant youth and amateur sports culture here in Middlebury,” McAuliffe said of the Brew crew’s perspective. “They see a natural tie-in, both from a fan perspective and from what they can do as partners with local small businesses.”
McAuliffe and Michael Mazzella, assistant general manager for the Brew, stressed a lot more needs to be done in order to officially toast a Memorial Sports Center-Vermont Brew partnership. Mazzella, along with his business partner and future Brew Coach Claude Flynn, must line up investors, corporate sponsors and a team roster. But Mazzella is very optimistic based on the progress they’ve made thus far, and they have more than a year to execute their business plan.
There isn’t much content right now on vermontbrewfootball.com, but the website does include an announcement that the organization has become a member of both the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and the Addison County Economic Development Corporation.
“The Vermont Brew is proud to be a part of each organization and look forward to working with both to obtain our first goal of being a strong positive member of our community,” the announcement reads.
The Brew represents a second attempt to establish an enduring arena football team in Vermont. Enthusiasts of the sport remember the Vermont Bucks, a now-defunct squad that played its home games at Gutterson Field House in Burlington. The Bucks had a very successful inaugural 2017 season — winning all but one game en route to becoming champions of the Can-Am Indoor Football League.
Bucks owner Tim Viens announced in December of 2017 he’d sold the team, but the deal fell through, according to an NBC5 TV report. This resulted in the Bucks not fielding a team last year.
Mazzella, a former Vergennes Union High School science teacher, was the Bucks’ equipment manager during its lone season. He’s a former football coach with Champlain Valley and Mount Mansfield union high schools, and believes an arena football team could have a long run in Vermont if it’s aggressively marketed and paired with a right-sized venue.
He said the Bucks drew a great crowd for their first game at Gutterson Field, but attendance dropped steadily for ensuing games. Gutterson became too big a venue, and the Bucks had to compete with the other activities and attractions in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populated area.
Mazzella is confident the Middlebury Memorial Sports Center and Addison County would be a perfect fits for the Brew.
He called Middlebury a “great football town” and a relatively easy jaunt for fans from Rutland, Burlington and Ticonderoga, N.Y.
He believes Brew home games could regularly fill the Sports Center, which can currently accommodate 650 spectators (including standing room).
Middlebury’s growing reputation as a manufacturing hub for beer, wine, cider, whiskey and gin make it a perfect pairing for the Brew, according to Mazzella, who sees opportunities for spectators to combine a game with a tasting tour.
Vermont Brew ticket prices will be in the $15 to $20 range, according to Mazzella, a price point he believes would make arena football games an affordable family experience.
McAuliffe said the Brew would be able to keep its artificial turf playing surface at the Memorial Sports Center throughout the arena football season, which ranges from mid-March to mid-June. Teams often have to repeatedly re-install their playing surfaces throughout the season in order to accommodate other sports in shared facilities.
“The more we thought about Middlebury, the more it made sense,” Mazzella said.
Invented in 1981, arena football is played exclusively indoors in arenas designed for basketball or ice hockey teams. The playing field is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. The goalpost uprights are 9 feet wide, and the crossbar is 15 feet above the ground.
Sidelines are delineated by a heavily padded wall intended to cushion players and keep them on the field of play. Taut rebound nets are placed on both sides of the goalposts, and the ball is considered “live” if it bounces back onto the field of play after a missed field goal.
Each team fields eight players, as opposed to the 11 in conventional football.
There are several arena football leagues throughout the country. Players, according to Mazzella, can range from former Division III college players looking for competition, to Division I players who might have been injured during their final college season and want a chance to showcase their abilities for other professional opportunities.
Kurt Warner is an example of an arena league alum who went on to a stellar career in the National Football League, winning a Super Bowl title in 2000 as quarterback of the St. Louis Rams.
“It’s for a player who wants another shot (at the pro ranks),” Mazzella said.
“We are that chance.”
The Brew will have a roster of 24 players, 19 of whom will dress for games, according to Mazzella. The team will likely play a regular season schedule of 10 games, potentially followed by two playoff contests.
Players will earn modest game checks — not enough alone to support themselves, according to Mazzella.
Brew coaches and staff will stay in the Middlebury area, and fans will undoubtedly spend some money on game days, officials said.
Rob Carter, president of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, said the Brew could help increase Middlebury’s appeal as a destination. He’s pleased that local restaurants, hotels and stores could see increased revenues during the Brew season.
“As far as the economy goes, it will be a good thing,” he said. “We’re working to support them and get the word out.”
Mazzella is excited for what the future might hold for the Brew.
“We’re working as hard as we can to get this going for the spring of 2020,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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