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The Suburbanite
  • Can Rubber Bowl bounce back?

  • Springfield alum Bill Dunn and his partner Sean Mason have lofty plans for the Rubber Bowl in Akron, which they bought, to house a new USFL team Akron Fire.

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  • New Akron Rubber Bowl owners Bill Dunn and Sean Mason carry themselves with a quiet confidence.
    As they make their way through their new stadium, new ideas formulate. They feed off each other. No idea is too big, because at this stage, anything is possible, and they want to aim high.
    They work as a team. If one partner cannot come up with anything for an area, the other speaks up. They hope these new ideas will help turn their current dream of owning a professional football franchise into a reality.
    It’s something that Dunn, a Springfield High alumnus, has been thinking of for awhile, and Mason, who is a native of southeast Ohio, said he wanted to be part of the first time they discussed it.
    “I have wanted to (do this) for a long time,” Dunn said, looking at the shattered windows that reporters and game day operation workers once looked through when the Rubber Bowl was bustling with activity.
    Dunn owned the Buckeye State Splash, a semi-pro team in Canton, and that is where he met Mason. The team would play at local high school fields and competed against the dozens of other semi-pro teams in the area. It was a small project, designed to allow men whose skill levels were not good enough to play professionally to continue playing football. They had to dissolve it for this new adventure. Mason said he wants to run his new team, the Akron Fire, like a business.
    “We want to live within our means, but we also want to make a splash,” Mason said, looking over field turf that’s as good as new. The only thing they will change on that are the logos of The University of Akron and The Mid-American Conference. The logos are one of many things that will be changed in the stadium over the next year.
    The transformation could begin with a name change. Dunn and Mason don’t mind keeping the name but want to sell the naming rights. And if they have to, they are willing to white out the concrete that reads “RUBBER BOWL” and rename the structure.
    Another change will be the seating. The old, wooden bleachers will be gone. The Rubber Bowl will still be predominately bleacher seating, but the pair plans to install more chair-back seats. They may also add more suites.  
    “If someone is going to pay to put their name on the field, or somewhere, then you want to be able to provide more than just a bleacher seat,” Mason said.
    The duo has many other upgrades in mind. The oddly placed lights that restricted so many views over the years will be removed. The old scoreboard and speakers will be replaced.
    Page 2 of 3 - Mason and Dunn are also looking at the logistics of putting a dome over the stadium. They’re considering factors such as cost, investors and airport restrictions. Planes landing at the Akron Fulton Airport just behind the Rubber Bowl creates a unique set of challenges in adding a dome.
    But first, the Rubber Bowl, which closed in 2008, needs to be cleaned up. It’s trashed. In the training room, where Akron football players once prepared to battle in front of packed crowds, cups and needles lie on the floor. Mason picks up the needles as he sees them and breaks off the ends so no one will be hurt.
    “I’m telling you,” Dunn said, standing in the old University of Akron VIP room, “new things turn up every time I look around this place.”
    In the suite area and press row, windows have large holes in them where rocks were thrown through. Shattered glass is everywhere. As the pair looks at the carnage, they wonder why anyone would destroy such a place but then assure themselves that cleaning it up would be just an average job for the right contractor.
    “The things that are wrong with the building are mostly cosmetics; if the building was falling over, we would have done this somewhere else,” Dunn said.
    Dunn and Mason are not the type one would expect to bring a United States Football League (USFL) team to Akron. They are the owners of Team1 Marketing, a company Mason described as a place that helps other businesses grow. The company has different subsections, including Team1 Marketing Entertainment and the most recent subsection, Team1 Marketing Sports. The latter is to help sign and promote their football players.
    Dunn grew up in Akron and attended several concerts and football games at the Rubber Bowl in his youth.
    “I do have fond memories of this place,” said Dunn, who graduated from Springfield in 1991.
    Dunn and his business partner do not have a lot of football experience, though both played in high school. But the two recognize the importance of surrounding the franchise with football minds.
    The Akron Fire has already picked out its head football coach. It will be Carl Crennel, nephew of former Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel. Carl played in the NFL for a few years before trying his hand at coaching like his uncle. The football operation president will be Anthony Griggs, someone who coached under Bill Parcells. Along with them will be a host of former NFL coaches and players to help advise them along the way.  
    “We want to be sure that we have the right people making the right decisions,” Mason said, “and to do that, we are surrounding ourselves with people who have NFL backgrounds.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Though the two do not have a lot of football savvy, they want to prove they have ideas that will bring the Rubber Bowl into the 21st century. Their passion is evident as they walk through the graffiti-filled halls of the Rubber Bowl. In red spray, the word “Swagger” is painted on a concourse wall. The duo walk with a bit of swagger themselves.
    Dunn and Mason know that, like any business, this adventure will need capital. They have contacted the multiple business that once sponsored the stadium and are currently seeking people to buy the naming rights to the stadium, field and press boxes. They will even set up a memorial plaque in the stadium where UA Alumni, who watched their teams play in the bowl for so long, can donate. Donors’ names will be placed on this memorial plaque.
    The two have their sights set high. They feel confident that they can finish the job before a March 2014 kickoff. Between now and then, however, there’s a lot of work to do to get the Rubber Bowl ready.

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