The wait is over for Kurt Hunzeker, president of the area's new XFL franchise, the St. Louis BattleHawks.
Wednesday afternoon, after the new football league was introduced on XFL.com, ESPN.com, FOXSports.com and the league's social channels, Hunzeker and several members of his staff hung out with fans at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company in The Grove.
“Now it's real,'' said Hunzeker, who was born in St. Louis and graduated from the University of Missouri. “The last few days have been tough, waiting for the official announcement. But today's been a lot of fun, getting a chance to see the reaction of the fans.
“We had a meet and greet last night in St. Charles and the electricity in town is unbelievable. We have a lot of work to do and February will be here before you know it. But I'm a high-energy guy, an idea guy who's anxious to hear from fans about what they want to see, what they're looking for in terms of the game-day experience.”
The BattleHawks were the first of new league's eight franchises introduced on Wednesday morning's XFL video. Their logo features a sword between a pair of wings; their colors are deep blue, silver and white.
The team will begin play at The Dome at America's Center downtown in February and is one of the new league's eight franchises, joining the Tampa Bay Vipers, Seattle Dragons, Los Angeles Wildcats, Washington D.C. Defenders, New York Guardians, Houston Roughnecks and Dallas Renegades.
In the introductory video, which featured XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck, ESPN host Laura Rutledge and Fox Sports host Colin Cowherd and included segments from all eight franchises, here's what was said about the local club:
"ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS: Winged warriors. Preparing for flight. Preparing to fight. They await their orders. Then attack as one. Diving, dodging, swooping, striking. Their mission: create chaos. Their mandate: win at all costs. The St. Louis BattleHawks. Cleared to engage."
Hunzeker previously worked as the vice president of marketing strategy and research for Minor League Baseball. Before that, he spent half a decade as a senior director of brand marketing for St. Louis-based Rawlings, where one of his first projects was working on the relaunch of the brand's football helmet.
“With an opportunity to be a club president of one of the four professional sports teams in my hometown a possibility, I jumped at it,'' Hunzeker said. “At that point, Commissioner Luck was already in place; he's a hugely respected businessman in sports. With Fox, ESPN and ABC and FS1 each broadcasting games and each game having its own exclusive window, I knew that this league was different. It became a no-brainer.
“It's an opportunity where we get to build our playbook, where everything's a blank canvas. It creates an opportunity where we can get really creative and have a lot of fun.”
Hunzeker is working closely with Jonathan Hayes, who was introduced as the local squad's head coach and general manager in April. The 56-year-old Hayes coached the Cincinnati Bengals' tight ends for the last 16 seasons under Marvin Lewis. A former second-round NFL draft pick, Hayes was a standout at the University of Iowa who played nine seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and three more with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Before joining the NFL as a coach, Hayes spent four seasons as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator under Bob Stoops at the University of Oklahoma. Stoops is head coach of the XFL's Dallas Renegades.
“Coach Hayes and his staff are in the building process right now,'' said Hunzeker, noting that quarterback Landry Jones was the first player signed by the XFL last week. “The league's still sorting out our draft process - we're not sure where we'll be picking - but there will be between 700 and 800 players in the pool following the NFL cuts. It's going to be a fun and exciting time for everyone in our league. I can't wait.”
Asked about the XFL's rule changes, Hunzeker seemed especially excited about the 25-second play clock and overtime.
“Our game is going to be fast and full of action,'' he said. “Our overtime, it's going to resemble an NHL hockey shootout. It'll bring fans to their feet and it's going to be electric.”
With the announcement came the Twitter hot takes
BattleHawks? Was NinjaSpiders taken?— Scott Petre (@MrPetre2You) August 21, 2019
Which is best?
Tampa Bay Vipers isn’t awesome, but it beats the hell out of “St. Louis BattleHawks”. That sounds like a rejected HeMan toy idea. https://t.co/NVK66rAvZz— Heath Cline (@heathradio) August 21, 2019
5) (cont.) BattleHawks is a bizarre name choice, and I don't see how it fits the city at all. And that logo looks like it was ripped straight from The Legend of Zelda. Yikes.— Braden Johnson (@SportsBraden) August 21, 2019
6) Seattle Dragons - another case of the mascot not matching the city at all. Why? Just, why?
Renegades = 👍🏻— Brooks Roland (@BrooksRoland82) August 21, 2019
Roughnecks = 👎🏻
Wildcats = 👎🏻 too generic
Guardians = Ok, could be better
Defenders = 👍🏻
BattleHawks = 👍🏻
Dragons = 👍🏻
Vipers = 👎🏻 (would’ve gone with either Bandits like the USFL days or something shark-related) https://t.co/SNfY2WXnuz
Battlehawks— Fragile Straight Cis White Male (@ColinLGlover) August 21, 2019
Too close to a rival?
@XFLStLouis Question ... Why would a St l. Louis team go with anything Hawks?? Biggest NHL rival is the Blackhawks..— Ryan Johnson (@SIR6Rhino) August 21, 2019
Some fans of the name
The #STL #XFL team honors our sports, aviation, and namesake history, #IMO. Hawks NBA Franchise, military plane/jet manufacturing, battle sword for King Louis IX (logo). I like it. @xfl2020 @XFLStLouis #BattleHawks pic.twitter.com/6YHi9IqhVJ— DominicThomas (@Dominic_Thomas9) August 21, 2019