Salem will soon have its own home football team to cheer on: the Oregon Blackbears, part of the Arena Football League.
The team will have home games in the Salem Pavilion Arena, part of the Oregon State Fair and Exposition Center grounds at 2330 17th St. N.E. The season is planned to start in April, said Kim Grewe-Powell, the fair’s chief executive officer.
The league, recently reformed after a bankruptcy, announced details of the new team Wednesday. The league previously said in July they intended to locate a team in Salem, but provided no details. following months of speculation
Arena football started in 1987, and is played on a 50 by 33 yard field, a quarter of the size of a traditional football field, said league CEO Travelle Gaines. He said the smaller field size, and less stoppage than the NFL ups the excitement.
“It’s a cool game. It’s very fast-paced, it’s very action packed. The fans love it,” he said. “It’s a college-style atmosphere in a professional setting.”
Gaines said the league wanted a presence on the West Coast, and narrowed its options down to Portland and Eugene. Grewe-Powell said they were in conversation with the league on and off for around four years.
“We decided to put it in the middle, which is Salem,” Gaines said, “There’s not a lot of sports or entertainment going on in Salem, so we figured bringing something to the capital city was important. Bringing something to that community was important, and it also is a pretty easy ride from Eugene or Portland.”
The Oregon Blackbears will be owned by New York Giants linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, a 2021 alumnus of the University of Oregon.
Chuck Jones has joined as the team’s head coach. Jones is a former college player with the University of Kansas, and coached 11 seasons of indoor football in Washington. Gaines said the coach will bring a lot of energy, and attended Portland State.
Gaines said the roster will prioritize players with ties to Oregon high school or college teams.
“There’s a lot of good football being played in the state of Oregon, so we would love to attract those athletes that have ties to the state as much as we can,” he said.
The team will host an open tryout on Nov. 4 at Salem Indoor Soccer, 4701 Portland Road N.E. The try out is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will include a 40 yard dash, broad jump, shuttle drill, three cone drill and one-on-ones. Try outs are open to people 21 and over, or at least 3 years out of high school. The cost is $75, according to an event flyer. For questions, email [email protected].
Though arena football first started in 1986, and was televised throughout the 1990s, it saw several bankruptcies due to ownership disputes, a 2019 workers compensation lawsuit, mismanagement and a flawed business model according to the league’s history page on a previous website, which Gaines said hasn’t been updated since January.
The latest iteration of the league has a new website at arenafootballusa.com, and a team website for the Blackbears is yet to launch.
Gaines said that the last iteration of the league shut down in large part because of Covid, because the league relied heavily on ticket sales. He said this launch refocused on smaller venues and selected communities with limited live sports options, balancing the launch between bigger and smaller cities.
The Salem area is also home to the Salem Capitals basketball team, part of The Basketball League, and the Mavericks Independent Baseball League, with four teams that play at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
The league is also planning a streaming and broadcast deal, and there will be sports betting. A more detailed announcement about tickets will come on Nov. 16.
Grewe-Powell said she hopes the league will bring people into Salem to spend moneys at local hotels and restaurants.
“We’re trying to get more sporting events on our fairgrounds, I think this will be the cream of the crop and we’re super excited to have the AFL here,” she said.
Update: This story has been updated to include more details on the Nov. 4 tryouts.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.