By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
The Jefferson County Commission voted Thursday to contribute $500,000 to help bring the United States Football League (USFL) to Birmingham.
The County Commission voted unanimously to match the city of Birmingham’s $500,000, which was approved Tuesday, toward paying $2 million for the USFL project. Those funds will pay for people to open and run the stadium.
Commissioner Joe Knight, who also sits on the board of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau has approved paying $2 million toward the league.
With those commitments, it’s possible that a formal announcement could be held as soon as next week detailing the USFL’s plans in Birmingham to host all eight USFL teams for its inaugural spring season in 2022.
FOX Sports has committed to picking up the cost of operating the league and is projecting up to 40 million viewers will watch the games being played at the brand new Protective Stadium or Legion Field.
Area leaders are excited about the huge economic impact for the retail sector in Jefferson County which includes all eight teams needing housing, food and entertainment during their time in Birmingham that include 50,000 room nights from the league for players and staff during the season.
County and city officials say their contributions are more than about the matching funds, but another sign of regional cooperation among area leaders that helped bring Amazon to Bessemer and Protective Stadium to Birmingham.
“This will work if everyone pitches in,” said Commissioner Joe Knight, who chairs the commission’s finance committee and also sits on the board of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re a whole lot stronger than if we’re fragmented … years ago we were hardly speaking to people across the park [at City Hall] or down the road. But now everybody sees this as a common cause that helps everybody.”
Birmingham City Councilor Hunter Williams told CBS42 that the area is in a “very exciting place . . . We have commitments, this is what regional cooperation looks like across the board and I think this is going to be a huge win not only for the city of Birmingham but also for our region as well.”
Commissioner Sheila Tyson said support of the USFL could lead to other attractions in the metro area.
“Think of all the other sports that could come once people see how well things are run and the participation of the people coming to the event,” Tyson said.
Knight told county commissioners during a committee meeting that there “will be guaranteed 30-second commercial slots for the stakeholders. It’s an opportunity to shine a light on us again and shine a light on us in a positive manner. We’re in a position to really showcase Jefferson County and Birmingham.”
Commissioner Steve Ammons agreed.
“It’s a way for us to showcase not only Birmingham and our new [stadium] but whatever else that may come from it as well. You’re able to show off Birmingham in a new light and Jefferson County. When we say Birmingham we don’t mean just the City of Birmingham we mean the whole area, the whole metro.”
Ammons said a series of “baby steps” show the region is headed in the right direction.
“This is matter of building trust and the more we build trust the more opportunities we’re are going to have,” he said. “The first was building the stadium . . . ‘if you build it they will come’ Obviously that’s turning out because USFL is interested only because the stadium is here.”
The new stadium, The World Games 2022, possibly the USFL “allows us to showcase Birmingham for what it is now and what we hope to be in the future,” Ammons said. “We are a growing city, we are being more progressive in our thought and it’s going to put us on the stage nationwide and worldwide… BHM is not only the airport call sign but it also stands for ‘Birmingham Has More’. Not only does Birmingham have more food, it has more history and it has more opportunities.”