Fans are encouraged to vote for the eventual Omaha team name by submitting their selections to LFLinOmaha@LFLUS.Com
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Something called the Lingerie Football League is coming to Ralston's 3,500-seat arena next year.
Not much description is required here: leggy women in pads, bras, panties and little else strap on hockey-style helmets to duel in seven-on-seven arena football games.
The new Ralston franchise, which doesn't have a name yet, will play two home games at the $32 million Ralston Sports and Event Center, joining tenants that include the Omaha Lancers hockey team, the Omaha Beef indoor football team and the University of Nebraska at Omaha men's basketball team.
Left in the wake of Thursday's announcement were members of the Nebraska Stampede, a fully-padded — and fully clothed — women's semiprofessional team that has struggled to make ends meet playing football in the Omaha area for three seasons. The Stampede's next game is 7 p.m. Saturday at Ralston High School's Rams' Field.
“From my perspective, it's really frustrating that this is the reality in our society,” said Tina Johnson, who serves as general manager and starting fullback for the Women's Football Alliance team. “Sex sells, and it always will.”
“If they want to go out there and play in their lingerie, then by all means, that's their power,” Johnson said. “I just wish we could get that same kind of respect with our clothes on.”
Last year, 80 percent of Ralston voters approved a $29 million bond issue to fund arena construction.
A five-member state board that included Gov. Dave Heineman also unanimously approved state financing to allow a portion of sales taxes generated in and around the arena to help pay off the project's debt.
Ralston Mayor Don Groesser referred questions about the lingerie league to Curtis Webb, the arena's general manager.
Webb said the league approached Ralston about bringing a team to the area.
He said that prompted officials to examine whether the team would fit the local demographic and the venue's goals. After talks with Ralston officials, Webb said, the city decided to try the idea.
“We're kind of taking a stance of we can try the two events, see how it goes, and if it doesn't make sense for us then we wouldn't move on with it down the road,” he said. Webb declined to say how much the lingerie league will pay Ralston for its time in the arena.
“It's a good deal for the city from a revenue standpoint,” he said. “It's our job to meet a budget.”
City officials have worked to bring other sports events to the arena. Last month they revealed efforts to attract a developmental team affiliated with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.
The facility near 72nd and Q Streets is expected to be finished in October.
The Lingerie Football League started as a pay-per-view programming alternative to the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004, and eventually secured enough funding in 2009 to launch a full-contact league — with teams such as the Los Angeles Temptation and Philadelphia Passion.
Previously, the league largely tried to expand to major media markets on both coasts. The league says its move to the Omaha area is its first venture into “the Heartland of America.”
The league's expansion here comes days after officials announced the LFL would forgo its 2012 season and delay games until next year to accommodate a spring and summer schedule.
League promoters encouraged prospective fans to submit suggestions for team names, and touted the fact it would host a May Combine to give local athletes the opportunity to “lace 'em up and compete for the coveted Lingerie Bowl title.”
While the lingerie concept has been rebuked by women's groups and some attempts to establish other franchises have faltered, the league says its business model has found great success.
After three years in business, the LFL claims it's the country's fastest-growing sports league and the most successful female sports organization.
“We're in the event business, and we want to make sure we're providing diverse entertainment, but in a professional way so we can grow and the building can grow,” Webb said of Ralston's decision to bring in the team.
Ticket information for Ralston's lingerie team will be released in May.
Meanwhile, the Stampede will play its final two home games of the regular season at Ralston High the next two Saturdays, likely in front of sparse crowds.
Their players will not be paid.
Tina Johnson's father, Rex, is the team's head coach. Her older sister, Beth, is personnel director for the 36-woman active roster. Limited budgets and long seasons are common for the team.
They don't seem to mind.
“It's just really frustrating that our girls really struggle to get by, season by season,” said Julie Johnson, the family matriarch and team volunteer.
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