NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans VooDoo is moving next season, but not from New Orleans. Instead, the VooDoo, New Orleans’ Arena Football League team, is going into bigger digs, at least temporarily.
The VooDoo will start its season in the New Orleans Arena, its customary home, and play it first three home games there. However, its final six home games will be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The move was necessitated because of improvements that will be made to the Arena, which has as its main tenant the NBA’s Hornets. After Saints owner Tom Benson purchased the Hornets last spring, the state agreed to provide $50 million in improvements to the Arena.
Construction will begin when the Hornets’ season ends next spring, in late April if they don’t make the playoffs, and last until the NBA season begins at the end of October. The VooDoo’s season runs from March to July.
“The renovations have put a kink in our season because of the time of our season,” said VooDoo owner Dan Newman said. “When construction takes place in the Arena, that means we have to be out of it.
“We’ve heard that the team is folding, the league is folding, that (the VooDoo) would shut down for a year. But we’re here to tell you that due to a lot of hard work by a lot of people in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and elsewhere, we’re playing all of our nine home games in 2013 right here in New Orleans.”
The renovations will take place in two phases during the same periods in 2013 and 2014. Newman said team officials did look into playing at the Cajundome in Lafayette, the River Center in Baton Rouge and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum in Biloxi. They met with officials of the latter two but decided to work something out here.
“We talked to the people with the governor’s office and decided that the VooDoo is a valuable sports asset, and let’s keep them here,” said Superdome Management Group General Manager Alan Freeman.
The move to the Superdome will provide challenges, logistical and otherwise, Newman noted. First off, there is the prospect of putting a 50-yard AFL field on a 100-yard field played for the most part by the Saints and Tulane.
And, one of the hallmarks of the Arena League is the teams intimacy with their fans, the closeness of the action to the spectators. Then, there’s the noise factor. Arena teams are known for having great home-field advantage because they play in basketball arenas, which can get very loud, even with between 7,000 and 10,000 fans per game, which the VooDoo usually drew last season.
Freeman said that to retain the feel AFL games, the field will be situated on the Superdome’s west side, near where the Saints’ bench is.
“We do have some other things on the east side of the building,” he said. “The suites and the press box are on the west side, and there are some other things on that side that will be working for us. We’re working on some different drawings that we hope to have to the owners in a few days.”
Newman acknowledged having 7,000 fans swallowed up in the cavernous Superdome was a concern, but said “obviously, we’re going to have to get a little louder.”
As far as the closeness with the fans, Newman said there will be portable bleacher seats all around the field like the seating for basketball’s NCAA Final Four.
“On one side will be the big wall, and with the seats all around, the fans still will be able to touch the players,” he said.
Arena League Commissioner Jerry Kurz said he was not concerned about things working out in the Dome.
“Fans of our league know about playing in big buildings from the Alamodome (where the San Antonio Talons play), and it worked well,” Kurz said.
New Orleans is no stranger to seeing its Arena League team play in the Dome. In 1991 and ‘92, the New Orleans Night played in the Superdome.
“People think, 16,000 (Superdome) seats, that’s a whole lot of seats to fill,” said Newman, who was involved working for the Arena League then. “Well some of you who were here ... it’s a really good experience. Of course, we have the best indoor arena, some say the best indoor stadium in the United States in the Superdome. And we’re really excited to work with all the powers that be, and for those six games to be played in the Superdome.”
“There’s going to be a lot of challenges there, but it’s going to be good and it’s going to be fun.”
Kurz said the league has been discussing contraction but that with a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, the AFL “is strong.” He said an announcement will be made soon concerning an additional TV partnership as well as a new corporate partner. The league also will have the Arena Football League Development League, much like the AFL2.