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Arena Football League Relaunch Comes As Surprise To Cities That Will Allegedly Have Teams 

Neon sign welcomes visitors to Bakersfield. Country western star Buck Owens, built a $10–million 'Buck Owen's Crystal Palace' at Highway 99, right next to the Crystal Palace is the huge Yellow and black BAKERSFIELD sign of Sillect street that we all see from the 99 freeway Bakersfield is a city increasingly popular with Southern California families because its houses are affordable and its schools good and it still has a smalltown feel. (Photo by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Officials with the Arena Football League, which went belly-up in 2008, and again in 2019, announced on July 18 that the league would return to play in the spring of 2024. 

“We are extremely proud to share the initial markets that will serve as the foundation of the new era of the Arena Football League,” AFL Commissioner Lee A. Hutton III told TMZ. The report said 16 teams would participate, and though the cities were cited, no ownership groups were named. At around the time as TMZ posted its story, the same information about AFL teams and towns, but no owners, was tweeted out by the Washington Post’s Jake Russell. And USA Today ran with it days later.

That was news to folks in many of the named locations, who seemed surprised to learn that they would have arena football in a matter of months. 

Take Austin, alleged site of the next Texas franchise. The headline of the Austin American-Statesman’s relaunch story: “Professional football is coming. Where the team will play remains a mystery.”

Or Salem, Oregon, another of the, um, lucky 16. The Salem-based Statesman Journal reported that Mayor Chris Hoy and Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron “both said they had no knowledge of an AFL team coming to Salem.” The Oregonian’s AFL announcement story was headlined “New team based in Salem seems to be a surprise to all.” Reporter Nik Streng wrote that he could find no arena operator in the region who was aware the AFL was coming. “Salem-area facilities also seem to be left in the dark,” Streng typed. “The Capital Fieldhouse has the space to host games, but hadn't heard anything from the Arena Football League.”

Same in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported its correspondents could not verify a Washington Post reporter’s tweet that arena football was coming to Cincy or find any building in the region that intended or even wanted to host a team. And the Cincinnati Business Courier reported that the general manager of the Heritage Bank Center, the largest arena in that town, said if there is an AFL team, it “won’t play” there. 

Then there’s Bakersfield, California. Once known as the country music capital of the west, Bakersfield has been through some rough times since favorite sons Merle Haggard and Buck Owens died and were replaced as local musical touchstones by Korn and Prussian Blue. But Bakersfield does have a unique and kinda cool arena football past. The city hosted the Bakersfield Blitz of AF2, an AFL offshoot, who played at what is now Mechanics Bank Arena before folding in 2007. The pro team’s presence led to the founding of the Bakersfield All-Star Bowl, an 8-on-8 indoor game for Kern County high school players, billed as the only high school game in the land played with arena football rules. But COVID killed off that marquee exhibition in 2020, and after an attempted reboot last year, it now appears the game, much like Hag and Buck, ain’t ever coming back

So one could think the AFL’s announcement that a franchise would land in Bakersfield would inspire some enthusiasm. Instead, confusion reigned. The local NBC affiliate, KGET-17, said the station couldn’t find anybody who knew “where the team will play.”

And staffers at Mechanics Bank Arena, a 10,000-seater and the only venue in Bakersfield big enough to host a team, were still in the dark about the AFL’s plans after Hutton’s announcement. 

 "We have not had any contact with the AFL,” a spokesperson for Mechanics Bank Arena told Defector after the TMZ report.  

More than a week after the relaunch announcement, a person claiming to represent the Bakersfield AFL squad contacted the Mechanics Bank Arena. The individual identified himself as “Tim Robinson,” but left contact information that was not for anybody with that name. Defector dialed the phone number used to make the call to the Bakersfield arena, however, and asked for “Tim Robinson.” 

“Well, that’s me, but there is no ‘Tim Robinson,’” said the man who answered. “That’s an alias.”

He said his real name was Tim Carbajal, and that he came up with “Tim Robinson” after finding out he’d been selected as owner of the Bakersfield AFL franchise. He declined to say when or how that selection took place. “I’m sorry I did that,” he said. A public records search for the phone number revealed a Timothy Carbajal of Taft, Calif., a town about 35 miles southwest of Bakersfield. 

Carbajal declined to answer questions about where the money to buy and/or operate an AFL franchise came from, citing a gag order from the league office. Carbajal also politely declined to discuss plans for drafts or tryouts or hirings or anything related to the arena team.

“That information is encrypted by the league,” he said, “and I cannot give that out out of respect to the AFL.”

Carbajal admitted that the arena team, which will be called the California Grizzlies, has not yet found a place to play. A Twitter account was registered in July for the “California Grizzlies,” and the bio calls the team “California’s only Arena Football League Franchise” and says it’s based in Bakersfield. The account, which follows AFL commissioner Hutton on Twitter, hasn’t tweeted yet. 

Carbajal did say that he has management and ownership experience from running a semi-pro outdoor football team, the Bakersfield Hawks. According to that team’s website, the squad plays a spring season and was founded in 2021. His wife Sara Carbajal is listed on the site as president of the board of directors. Tim Carbajal declined to disclose his professional occupation outside of his arena and Hawks duties, but public records show he and his wife have been licensed as security guards.

At the end of our phone call, Carbajal again apologized for the “Tim Robinson” usage, and insisted that despite confusion in Bakersfield and other alleged AFL markets, the relaunch is no hoax.

“It’s definitely going to happen,” he said. “When it rolls out, people are going to be astonished.”

AFL commissioner Hutton did not respond to Defector’s requests for comment.

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