GRAND RAPIDS—DP Fox Ventures LLC recently added another holding to its sports and entertainment division as the diversified management and marketing firm bought a 49-percent interest in the Wichita Stealth, an Arena 2 football franchise.
The Stealth is located in Valley Center, a northern suburb of Wichita, and is operated by Oklahoma Wranglers LLC. The Wranglers is an Arena Football League team based in Oklahoma City and DP Fox manages the business side of that franchise for the partnership.
“We are now a significant owner of the franchise, as well as being the management company,” said Scott Gorsline, COO of the DP Fox sports and entertainment division.
The Stealth is the company’s third sports investment outside of Michigan. DP Fox owns the Kansas City Blades, an International Hockey League franchise, and co-owns the Barrie Colts, a major junior hockey team in Ontario.
The Dan and Pamella DeVos-owned firm is also sole owner of the AFL Grand Rapids Rampage and majority owner of the IHL Griffins.
Gorsline said the company looked into the possibility of locating an Arena 2 franchise closer to home before becoming involved with the Stealth. There were barriers to doing that locally, however. The biggest was trying to find an appropriate arena to house the business. So the company took a closer look at Wichita because of its relationship with the Wranglers.
“They originally wanted to do an Arena 2 football franchise and Wichita is within a reasonable distance from Oklahoma City. So they filed an application for the Wichita market and they envisioned us also running Wichita,” said Gorsline. “They approached us about getting involved from an ownership perspective and we decided to do it.”
DP Fox already has employees nearby in Kansas City and Oklahoma City, so the joint venture seemed to make sense.
“We looked at a number of local markets in central and western Michigan, but we just couldn’t make any of them work at the time we were trying to put it together,” he said.
The thought of putting a franchise in Lansing was especially attractive to the company, considering the city’s demographics and its affinity for sports. But neither Munn Arena, on the Michigan State University campus, or the Capitol Centre, on the city’s western edge, met the league’s building requirements.
“The Lansing market would have been a great market, but you need a building that works,” said Gorsline. “And they just didn’t have that.”
As for the Rampage, the club played its first preseason game in Kemper Arena, which seats about 20,000 and is home to the Blades. The game was sort of a league experiment to get a feel for how Arena Football might play in Kansas City, generally considered a hotbed for football. Holding that game there doesn’t automatically mean that DP Fox is considering a franchise for the city. But the firm isn’t ruling out that idea, either.
Much of what DP Fox will do depends on what Lamar Hunt, owner of the NFL Kansas City Chiefs, is going to do.
“Any market that is an NFL market is sort of being set aside for the NFL owner in that market. As far as I know Lamar Hunt has not submitted an application for that market,” said Gorsline. “The league is waiting to see if NFL owners want to do the AFL in their markets, as a number of their cohorts have done.”
The Chiefs has about 50,000 season-ticket holders and it wouldn’t take much effort to market the AFL franchise to Chiefs customers. NFL owners are already involved in the arena game and they hold an option to buy 49 percent of the AFL.
“The league definitely wants to do arena football in Kansas City,” said Gorsline. “So then it just becomes a question of whether we would want to do it, or someone else locally.”