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AFL Commissioner Butera promises 'outstanding team' for Portland in 2016



Scott Butera, commissioner of the Arena Football League, said Wednesday he believes Portland will have “an outstanding team” in 2016 that will survive the season as it is run by the league.

Butera announced a month ago that the AFL had taken control of the former Portland Thunder, which played in 2014 and 2015 at Moda Center under local owner Terry Emmert.

Under league operation, Portland’s team will have to choose a new name. Butera said that and other new team branding will come “soon.”

The season is scheduled to start on April 1, with Portland playing host to the Arizona Rattlers at Moda Center.

Butera said he remains open to a possible return of the team to Emmert but also wants to have “the right owner” for the long term.

“If Terry decided he wanted to do something, we would always be open to talking. We’ve been talking throughout this process. The communication lines are open,” Butera said.BUTERA

Butera said recent changes around the AFL — which has dropped from 14 teams to eight — have been partly about “getting the right ownership base, owners who are experienced professional sports team owners … doing things right and having the financial resources and the operational skills to be able to do that.”

Butera, who is based in Las Vegas, Nev., became AFL commissioner about a year and a half ago “with the idea of making the league a lot more prominent and better than it was.

“The quality of the football is outstanding, I just think we need to improve the way the league is marketed, both at the league and team level.”

Last week, Butera announced that Thunder coach Andy Olson and his staff, hired by Emmert in the offseason, won’t work for the team this season. The league appointed Ron James, an AFL veteran, as coach and general manager.

“That was just part of the transition,” Butera said of the change in coach. “We just thought the old coach was associated with the old regime. He was a good coach, but we did what we thought was good for the team.”

Much of the Portland player roster is in place for 2016, and Butera said the team is looking for a new practice facility and headquarters to replace the fixtures in Clackamas the Thunder used under Emmert.

“We’re committed to having a great product in Portland,” Butera said.

With only eight teams in the AFL for 2016, “we’re going to have an outstanding team — there is a lot of talent to be spread among fewer teams,” the commissioner said.

Butera said he wanted to let Portland fans know that “the idea is to just create a much more stable team, with great football and great entertainment.

“Hopefully, it’s a big positive for everyone.”

Emmert released a statement on Wednesday saying he was caught “off guard” by the league’s early January move to seize control of the team. Emmert said he had “legitimate and serious concerns regarding some of the league’s operational practices.” Emmert also said he felt the Thunder “had been negotiating in good faith” and still hopes various issues “can be resolved satisfactorily for all.”

“To date,” Emmert said, “negotiations have not conclusively established an equitable agreement between ownership and the league.”

Butera painted a different picture of his talks with Emmert and how the league’s takeover of the team came about.

“We made many, many attempts to try to work with the owner, and they never responded to any of our offers, or they responded in a way that just didn’t make sense,” Butera said. “I can assure you we made probably six months of effort, and we ended up taking over a large financial burden from that owner to make sure the team was in a stable perspective.

“I have a great deal of respect for Terry and the Emmert family,” Butera said, “and I think what they did was great. They certainly do have the ability, financially and operationally, to run a team.

“It was very much their decision not to continue. I guess it was no one thing in particular, it was just that all the things that were required to run a team might have been a little more time-consuming than one might have expected, and the Emmert family wanted to focus on their other businesses.

“From our perspective, we did everything we could. Obviously, the league would prefer to have a third-party owner. It’s not really our mission to run teams, although we do, and we’re comforable with that. We’re fully commmitted to not only finishing the year but having the full resources to have a great product.

“I think they’ll have a very competitive team (in Portland), and they’ll have the whole financial resources of the league behind the team, which, in a way, could be even better.”

Butera said the league wants to add more teams after 2016 in various parts of the country, and some reports have said the AFL could have two teams in Mexico after 2016.

“You keep saying we lost teams. We’re transitioning,” he said. “Quality is more important than quality. I expect next year we’ll have a number of new teams, now that we have a clean platform for the type of owners we’d like to have.

“It’s more about who the owners are than the cities,” Butera said, describing ideal ownership also as “somebody who has a good relationship with an arena and a solid infrastructure of marketing,” such as owners of NBA or NHL teams with staff and arena revenue that can go to an AFL team, as well.

Asked if Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen would be approached or had been courted to own an AFL team in Portland, Butera said, “I can’t comment on any discussions that we’re having.”