By John Lombardo
Nashville Business Journal
Updated: 8:00 p.m. ET July 04, 2004Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams is nearing a deal to put an Arena Football League franchise back in Nashville for play next season, league officials said last week.

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Adams owns the rights for an AFL Nashville franchise and has been working to complete a deal with the Gaylord Entertainment Center for an arena team to begin play there in 2005.

Adams bought the Nashville club rights in 2002 and has completed paying a reported $4 million expansion fee. League officials say the lease negotiations are the only remaining obstacle for the club to begin play.

The AFL Nashville Kats played at the GEC from 1997 to 2001 until the team was relocated to Atlanta by then-owner Virgil Williams to become the Georgia Force. The Force this season was sold to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank for an undisclosed sum.

"Nashville has been continuing to work on finalizing a lease agreement, and it is our understanding that they are close to accomplishing that goal," said league spokesman Chris McCloskey.

Gaylord Entertainment Center General Manager Hugh Lombardi was unavailable for comment. Gerry Helper, the Nashville Predators' senior vice president for communications, returned Lombardi's calls and says nothing has been finalized with the GEC.

"We have wanted to have them all along and Hugh has been actively trying to put something together," Helper says, adding that both sides have talked recently, but have determined not to speak publicly about the discussions.

"The goal is to negotiate a deal for the Kats to play in Nashville in 2005," Helper says.

The expected Nashville deal would give the AFL 20 teams next season, with additional expansion still possible. Other markets that may see teams for 2005 include Boston and Washington.

The Nashville deal also would give the AFL another NFL owner in its ranks, with Adams joining Blank, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford in owning stakes in AFL teams.

The AFL concluded its 2004 season this past weekend, when the San Jose SaberCats beat the Arizona Rattlers 69-62 to win ArenaBowl XVIII.