By Nathan Tucker
“Lifelong” BattleHawks president Kurt Hunzeker spoke to Randy Karraker and Michelle Smallmon this week on their 101 ESPN morning show about the potentiality of professional football coming back to St. Louis in 2021. This comes a few months after the fledgling XFL cancelled its season due to COVID-19, ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy.
“I don’t know if it will be by [the XFL] name,” Hunzeker said in his radio interview, “but given the bankruptcy bidding process, it seems like there’s multiple bidders, perhaps in the 20s.”
Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment filed for bankruptcy following the XFL season cancellation. Since then, a number of potential investors and suitors for the league have shown interest in keeping the football league alive in some form.
“I think it could be very likely that a developmental football league could get some pretty strong footing in the next twelve months.” Hunzeker continued. “Some of the steps that the former holding company of the XFL (Alpha Entertainment) has taken, like keeping leases intact in some markets including St. Louis, definitely points to a belief that at some point pro football will return to St. Louis.”
Hunzeker said he would jump at the opportunity to rejoin a rebooted XFL. The BattleHawks were one of if not the most successful XFL franchises in terms of ticket and merch sales, as the city embraced the team with open arms as its attempt to become a football city again.
“We were really, really successful, and we took a slightly different approach to engaging the community.” Hunzeker noted. “We were very grassroots oriented, and other markets started to do the same.”
The BattleHawks had sold more tickets for their scheduled game against the Los Angeles Wildcats than any other game on their schedule when the league suspended the season. The game was circled on the calendar for every St. Louis football fan, a chance for the city to prove what the NFL and Stan Kroenke were missing out on.
“When I first got the job, commissioner [Andrew] Luck said ‘I can grant you one wish, what is it?’ and I said ‘We have to play Los Angeles at home.’” Hunzeker recalled. “[The XFL’s] football operations team shook their heads and said ‘No, LA is playing St. Louis at home.’ and I still said ‘we need this game in St. Louis’.”
“It has nothing to do with the former team, for all the obvious reasons. But the storytelling, that’s the biggest thing about sports, there’s so much story. I knew the fans were going to connect with that story of LA coming back to St. Louis, and while the Wildcats have nothing to do with Mr. Kroenke, we knew that was going to be a big game.”
“We had sold more than 36k tickets by the time the season ended on March 12. That game was still (three) weeks away. We were expecting 55k and up, conservatively 45k, realistically if we beat Tampa and are 4-2, you’d have been looking at 55k and up for sure.”
That’s a big number as far as football in general goes in St. Louis. The Rams sold just over that amount on average in their more dire years in St. Louis and, often, only about half that number were actually coming to the games. 55k would have been the biggest football attendance in the city since the final St. Louis Rams home game in 2015.
Hunzeker, with a background in minor league baseball, believes that a rebooted XFL needs to go to cities without an NFL franchise. St. Louis was an outlier in the XFL for being a (now) non-NFL city.
“There are a lot of great markets, Columbus, Orlando, big TV markets with a hunger for professional football,” Hunzeker said. “San Diego makes sense, Oakland makes sense too. It will be interesting to see whoever does purchase the XFL, where they want to go.”
“Do they take the big city, big TV market approach, or do you go where you want to grow the game, where you can fill the void in a vacuum which allows you to go out in the community as the ‘steward’ of professional football.”
Hunzeker also notes in this interview that in August the winning bid for the XFL will be revealed, and then the league will likely begin to take shape again.
Could KaKaw be the law once more? BattleHawk faithfuls will have to be patient, but they’ve already been waiting since 2015.