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New Stampede ownership fosters business relationships

Local businessman Justin Coble, a defensive coach last year, purchased the Harrisburg Stampede prior to the start of this year's season. In partnership with New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston, a Susquehanna Township graduate, the team is 6-0 with dreams of a championship. Photo/Jason Scott

Frequent leadership and league changes have been the norm for the Harrisburg Stampede in the team’s four years of existence in the world of professional indoor football.

While this year has been no different — ownership changed hands and the team joined the American Indoor Football league— the team is on a championship run and long-term stability is within reach.

“We work hard to follow through on what we start,” said co-owner Justin Coble, 31, a Harrisburg businessman who bought the team this year with a goal of expanding the footprint in Central Pennsylvania and giving back to the community.

Coble, a defensive coach with the Stampede last year, forged a partnership with New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston, a Susquehanna Township graduate.

The owners have invested heavily in marketing of the minor league franchise, slashed sponsorship rates and ticket prices and implemented ongoing charitable efforts in area schools.

The goal is growing a fun, family atmosphere that local businesses can get behind and support in a comparable fashion to the Harrisburg Senators or Hershey Bears.

Coble and Colston have taken a very business-like approach to the team. Both are extremely accessible at games and active in correcting mistakes made in the past.

Within three months of owning the team, sponsorships increased to 78 from 26 last season, Coble said. Attendance also shot up to 2,118 on opening night, which was up from 696 last season.

One of the team’s biggest supporters is Dauphin County. Since the Stampede’s inception, the county has provided $16,000 in tourism and promotional funds and a total of $125,000 in gaming grant funds, said Amy Richards Harinath, a spokeswoman for the county commissioners.

“The No. 1 thing I tell people is following through on our word has been huge,” Coble said. “It’s a plant, it’s a seed and you’ve got to cultivate it.”

Ticket prices have been set at an affordable level — $10 for general admission, $15 for box seats and family four-packs are $30. Parking also is complementary.

“We did a lot of things like that,” Coble said. “It was important to show our commitment level. This is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year business operation. We plan on running it like that.”

The Stampede has been donating tickets to elementary schools to reward kids for hard work.

The team is losing money this year. Coble said he believes the investments made this year will pay off in future years. He sees this as an impact business in the community.

“We knew we were going to spend money to market and correct some things,” he said. “I’m hoping next year we’ll be close to profitable.”

The team has a 30-man practice squad. They dress 20 players for game day. In this league, the average player makes between $200 and $500 per game, Coble said.

The Stampede might look to pursue a new league next year, he added, hoping to cultivate a relationship with teams in the Lehigh Valley and Reading.

In the current season, the team is 6-0 with its regular season finale tomorrow against the Cape Fear Heroes. The playoffs start June 2 with the second round and championship games slated for June 9 and June 16, respectively.

The league championship will be hosted by the Eastern Conference champion, which could put the game at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

“The goal is to win the championship this year,” Coble said.

The team plans to bring in food truck vendors, a band and drumline next season to encourage some tailgating and add more pregame excitement for the fans, he said.

“We want the kids to be able to come to a safe, friendly place and provide affordable entertainment,” Coble said. “We’re going to be here for awhile.”

Colston was unavailable for comment due to scheduling conflicts.

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