New arena football league will not start in 2019, questions remain if it will ever happen

Virginia Iron Horses were set to play in Roanoke

ROANOKE, Va. – The National Gridiron League promised arena football would launch in Roanoke this spring, but after questions, delays and personnel drama the league will not be starting afterall in the Star City or in any of the other 11 cities it was set to launch in. This comes after the league announced it would be delaying kickoff from the original target date of the end of March, to the end of April and shortening the season.

League chairman Joe McClendon has previosuly talked to 10 News about the league, but this time said he has no information to share. Multiple coaches and stakeholders in the league who don't want to be named confirmed the details however, citing a Monday conference call with McClendon. 

They said McClendon told those on the call the league was delayed until Spring 2020 and that he would be selling league to a new owner, but would not name who that new owner was. Many of those folks question if the league is actually being sold or if the money just ran dry, and if there is no money left, if the league will ever happen.

McClendon, Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge President Landon Howard  and Berglund Center General Manager Robyn Schon stood on a stage together last summer to announce the Virginia Iron Horses would be coming to town. Since that time there has been little in the way of marketing, promotions or visible work being done in Roanoke. McClenon was in Roanoke last month to reassure city leaders the team was coming, but after the meeting Mayor Lea said he still had reservations and questions about the funding.

The Berglund Center would be the home field for the Iron Horses, but management there said the league never paid its rent or made headway installing neccesary equipment. The General Manager of the Iron Horses said she has resigned from her position. 

The City of Roanoke does not have any financial stake in the league, nor does the Berglund Center, outside of the possibility of lost potential revenue from reserving the arena space for dates that now won't happen. Berglund Center General Manager Robyn Schon said the arena took back to dates it had reserved for the football league to make room for other events and that there had not been any other missed opportunities.

"We're not losing anything at this point, we don't have a financial investment," Schon said. "We have lost a little bit of time, but we haven't lost any of our marketing resources either so if they had to go away, or fold, it was a good time to do that."

McClendon told 10 News last month that anyone who purchased seasont tickets would receive a refund if the league did not materialize, but he added that wouldn't matter because he insisted the league would happen.

He would not say how many tickets had been purchased. McClendon also said that all of his coaches had been compensated for their three months of work so far. After the story aired, a number of coaches reached out to 10 News Reporter Shayne Dwyer to say that they had not been paid as McClendon claimed.

McClendon would not answer questions today about the league. The Berglund Center said it has reservations about working with the league again if it does come to fruition in 2020.

 "I think there would have to be a lot of conversation and it's going to be tough to get me to buy in moving forward I think," Schon said.

Mayor Lea was disappointed in the outcome as were a number of other city leaders and residents. But it's important to remember that the league not happening has nothing to do with the city or the Berglund Center. As all the coaches, general managers and venue managers in other cities have told 10 News, this is purely a league issue.

This is a developing story.

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