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Friday, August 1, 2014

Hartman will own Wichita's new indoor soccer franchise

BY KIRK SEMINOFF
The Wichita Eagle

Roy Turner has opened this "Indoor Soccer Franchise From Scratch" kit before.

He came to Wichita three decades ago to promote an exhibition game involving his Dallas Tornado and was convinced to stay and develop a new team called the Wings.

"It's always tough to start a franchise," he said, "but we didn't have nostalgia in '79. Now we've got it."

Entrepreneur Wink Hartman hopes it's worth some ticket sales, too. He'll own the Wichita franchise in the Major Indoor Soccer League next season, announced Friday by league commissioner David Grimaldi.

The league, which this season has five teams playing 20-game schedules, runs from November through March.

Almost all of the pieces are there for Hartman: He owns 5,000-seat Hartman Arena in Park City, where the team will play. His Wild indoor football team's marketing and sales groups can work for both teams, especially since football is a spring-summer schedule and soccer is fall-winter.

Wild general manager John Blazek will fill the same role with soccer.

Turner, who coached the Wings for two stints, will play a part in the start-up. He and Hartman have been friends for years, and Turner will help find a new coach while still working full-time as head of the Nationwide golf tour's annual stop.

But there's one piece missing for now: the Wings nickname, which the prior franchise used from 1979 to 2001, when it folded operations in the National Professional Soccer League.

"I avoid that word because honestly, I don't know who owns the name," Hartman said. "I'm having my attorney check on it to see if it's available and what we might need to do. Hopefully we can use 'Wings' as of old. We'll see if it's legally possible."

A search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website Friday shows the trademark "Wichita Wings" was in use from 1979 until it was canceled on Nov. 23, 2002.

Hartman said if "Wings" isn't usable, another option would be a contest where fans could suggest or vote on team names.

Whatever the name, the deal to bring indoor soccer back to Wichita moved quickly once Hartman became involved.

Grimaldi said in January he wanted to install a Wichita team, but refused to name a potential owner or arena home. At that time, Hartman said, he wasn't involved other than being a potential host in his arena.

"David Grimaldi had called about the feasibility of using Hartman Arena," Hartman said. "As things grew, I stuck my hand in there and said I'd do it."

Hartman said he negotiated for the team for less than a week.

Some MISL franchises are having more success financially than others. The Missouri Comets, coached by former Wings star Kim Roentved, average about 4,050 fans. The Chicago Riot, which pay its players about $400 per game, averages less than 1,100. Other teams are in Baltimore, Chicago and Omaha.

"Going by the individual franchises, some are not doing it properly," Turner said. "I talk to Kim and the Kansas City organization is doing very well. Maybe they're who we should be emulating."

In its two-year history, Hartman Arena has made itself known for being interested in housing sporting events. In the past week, the arena hosted the Class 6A and 5A high school wrestling tournaments and Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference championship basketball games.

This week, the arena was listed by Venues Today magazine at No. 9 among Midwest arenas its size for attendance at non-tenant events, such as concerts and one-time sporting events.

Soccer will give the arena its first cold-weather tenant.

Turner said it was emotional when indoor soccer's return was finalized.

"As much as I've been in Wichita, 31 years in professional sports, the question I always hear most is, 'When are we bringing the Wings back?' " he said. "Now I can tell them they're back, and get your tickets now."

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