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It’s official: Bemidji gets IFL franchise

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BEMIDJI -- The Indoor Football League is coming to Bemidji.

Just a month after league officials visited the Sanford Center to make a pitch to potential ownership groups, the league has made it official and granted Bemidji an expansion franchise to begin play in February.

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An official press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Sanford Center.

“It’s our first foray into professional sports in this town,” Sanford Center executive director Curtis Webb said. “It’s pretty exciting for us to be able to do this.”

Chris Kokalis, who is the co-owner and general manager of the Cedar Rapids Titans, will be a co-owner and president of the Bemidji franchise. Kokalis will split his time between Bemidji and Cedar Rapids.

Kokalis said he will be leading a group of local owners in Bemidji. Kokalis said he has one other local person on board as an owner now who would prefer to be nameless; he added there is a possibility other locals will join the ownership group.

He emphasized he planned to put as many locals on staff as possible.

“We’re going to have a local staff of people on the ground,” Kokalis said. “The front office will have a lot of Bemidji flavor as far as the makeup of the organization.”

The IFL season runs from February to June and each team plays a 14-game schedule -- seven home games and seven on the road.

The Bemidji franchise, which is still unnamed, will be the league’s 10th team. Webb said the league was also looking into franchises in Fargo and the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois but don’t have ownership groups lined up quite yet.

Kokalis said what set Bemidji apart from other potential expansion markets was the area’s untapped potential in the pro sports realm. Bemidji will be the smallest city in the league, but that isn’t an issue for Kokalis.

“For me personally, I really liked what I saw in Bemidji,” Kokalis said. “The city may only have 14 (thousand), 16,000 people but there are about 40,000 people in a 25-mile radius and more like 100,000 in a 100-mile radius.

“And with the success of the Bemidji State hockey programs in this area, I think the IFL will fit in very well.”

Other IFL owners seemed to think a Bemidji team would be a boon to the league -- and that Koaklis was the right owner to take over. Todd Tryon, owner of the Sioux Falls Storm, told KWSN radio in Sioux Falls on Tuesday that he was looking forward to the league expansion.

“It’s tough not to be excited,” he said. “Chris has done a great job down in Cedar Rapids building a strong franchise with a small budget in a small market.

“I think he’ll take the same blueprint to Bemidji and will be successful.”

Tryon added the league would be making more expansion announcements within the next two weeks.

Webb said Wednesday's press conference will discuss -- among other things -- ticketing options, the name-the-team contest and sponsorship opportunities. Season tickets are scheduled to go on sale this morning, along with the website, www.bemidjiprofootball.com, which will also go live Wednesday.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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