LINCOLN — The Capital City will become the home of an indoor football league team next spring, with the help of a northeast Nebraska Indian tribe.
Lance Morgan, who heads the Winnebago Tribe's economic development arm, Ho-Chunk Inc., said Tuesday his organization will relocate the Council Bluffs Express to Lincoln's Pershing Center auditorium.
The team will be renamed the Lincoln Haymakers, playing off the name of Lincoln's Haymarket area, Morgan said. It will play in the Champions Professional Indoor Football League.
Lincoln represents an exclusive market for the team, Morgan said, and presents a high-profile investment for Ho-Chunk, an economic development effort that has focused on housing, construction and government contracts.
“We want to do something obvious and high-profile in Lincoln,” Morgan said.
Ho-Chunk wants to demonstrate that economic development by the tribe is positive for the state, Morgan said.
Most recently, Ho-Chunk has been in the news for its bid to run a new land-based casino in Sioux City, Iowa, to replace a riverboat gambling operation there.
The demise of the Express means one less tenant for Council Bluffs' Mid-America Center and the return of indoor football to Lincoln. The Lincoln Capitols, formerly the Lincoln Lightning, played its last season in 2006.
The Express, formerly the Iowa Blackhawks, had played home games in the Mid-America Center as a member of the American Professional Football League (APFL).
Owners Justin Hayes and Brad Lindgren sold the majority interest of the franchise to Ho-Chunk. Both will remain with the team as minority owners.
Lindgren also will serve as the team's general manager, while Hayes will be director of football operations and player personnel. The Haymakers opened their office in the Haymarket on Monday.
The Express played in the past four APFL championship games. But the team wasn't a big hit in Council Bluffs, averaging only 850 fans per home date in 2012.
“We had great fans and sponsors,” Lindgren said, “just not enough of them.”
The city-owned Mid-America Center has lost money every year since opening in 2002 and is projected to lose $762,000 this year. In July, Council Bluffs hired Caesars Entertainment Corp. as manager of the arena.
The Haymakers' league also will include teams from Sioux City, Tulsa and Wichita, among others.
Tony Boone of the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.
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