ANAHEIM — A league official once described Arena Football as "something between a strip joint and a tractor pull."
It didn't play in Vegas, and it flopped in L.A.
But it's coming to football-desperate Orange County.
Anaheim, still suffering from post-Ram depression, got the county's first Arena team in September, when a local investment group bought the struggling Las Vegas Sting.
The team, which will announce its nickname and logo Nov. 14, has a five-year lease with The Pond and will begin its 14-game season in May.
"Wait until you see this," said former Ram center Rich Saul, the Anaheim team's vice president of football operations. "Orange County is going to love it. And this county loves football, no matter what Georgia Frontiere says."
Will Orange County fans buy into the Arena game, known for its high scoring, 50-yard fields, nomadic franchises, low-end talent and campy promotions?
It's a hit in Miami, where the home team "Hooters" are named after the restaurant and bar chain that once owned it.
It's a major event in Tampa, where fans can watch from a hot tub in the stands.
It's huge in Arizona, where Rattler cheerleaders ride Harley Davidsons on the field during the pregame show.
It's big in Des Moines, where the Iowa Barnstormers' beer-guzzling end zone section is appropriately nicknamed "The Barnyard."
And it's loved in Memphis, where the Pharaohs turn their mascots--live camels named Cleo and Tut--loose on the field.
"Most pro football games are . . . how can I put it politely . . . boring?" said Jack Youngblood, former Ram defensive end and vice president of operations of the Arena League Orlando Predators.
"People go to a game, tailgate, maybe watch a Frisbee dog show at halftime. Arena Football gives you much more, and I think it will be super in Anaheim. This is something that, if you market it properly, can be very successful."
Many would call it a crazy investment, but the league has turned a few heads on Wall Street.
Franchises that sold for $250,000 three years ago are now worth more than $1 million, and the price could go even higher if the league's TV ratings continue to climb. The league has a 21-game contract with ESPN and ESPN2 for next season.
The Anaheim ownership paid more than $1 million for the Las Vegas team, one of the league's 15 franchises. The group includes former Irvine Mayor David Baker and sports promoter Roy Englebrecht.
"This sport could really catch on with TV," said Baker, recently named Arenaball president. "You need to see it in person, but it has that rock 'n' roll element that makes it good TV. If the ratings go up, you're looking at $6 million or $7 million a team."
Englebrecht, the Anaheim team's president, has a lofty goal--to draw 17,000 a night to the Pond, which the NHL's Mighty Ducks have filled to more than 98% capacity in two-plus seasons.
"We want Arena Football to be the premier Saturday night event in Orange County," Englebrecht said.
But the team will have to offer affordable tickets prices just to compete with the Angels and The Pond's two summer tenants--the Splash of the Continental Indoor Soccer League and the Bullfrogs of Roller Hockey International.
The Splash averaged 8,400 spectators this past season, second in the CISL to Dallas' 9,400. Attendance increased 3,000 a game from the Splash's inaugural season, largely because the team traded tickets for corporate sponsorship, said team spokesman John Nicoletti.
The Bullfrogs led the RHI in attendance for the third consecutive year, averaging 10,076 last season, said Bob Elder, the team's vice president and general manager.
"There's tremendous competition for the summer entertainment dollar in Southern California," Nicoletti said. "But if they [Arena officials] make it affordable and fun, people are going to come out and watch it."
Cheap tickets are part of the appeal of the Splash and the Bullfrogs. Splash tickets cost between $5 and $12; Bullfrog tickets between $8 and $25.
Anaheim's Arena team has yet to announce ticket prices, but the league average is $25, comparable to what the Rams charged.
Front-row seats in Orlando, which leads the league in attendance, sell for as much as $100 apiece. Youngblood says it's worth it.
"We try to give the fans more than a football game," he said. "You have to add some sizzle. We put on a pregame show that's a mini-Super Bowl--music, indoor fireworks, videos, dancers."
Anaheim is the second Arena team to play in Southern California. The Los Angeles Cobras played the 1988 season in the L.A. Sports Arena, then folded.
Arenaball couldn't survive in Vegas or L.A., but the new owners are convinced it will in Anaheim.
"It's an area void of pro football," Englebrecht said. "We have eight years of Arena Football history, and a committed ownership group that's catering to the community. We are doing what the Rams have been accused of never doing."
The Las Vegas team went on the market after losing $1 million in each of the last two seasons.