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Philadelphia Soul return to AFL

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Soul are set for an encore in the AFL.

This time, they'll be back without their headline act.

The former league champions are returning to the Arena Football League for the 2011 season without their famous former co-owner, Jon Bon Jovi.

Former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski and businessman Craig Spencer are the new majority owners.

"To a certain extent, we never left," Spencer said. "We always wanted to continue and play Arena Football."

The Soul shut down after beating the San Jose SaberCats 59-56 to win the ArenaBowl championship in 2008.

The AFL canceled its season in 2009 after a 22-year run and returned this year with 15 teams under new leadership and economic model. The season runs from April to July.

"The AFL is pleased to welcome the Philadelphia Soul back to the Arena Football family," commissioner Jerry Kurz said. "The passionate fans of Philadelphia and the surrounding area as well as the tremendous ownership group epitomize Arena Football and the league's continued commitment to the communities we serve."

Jaworski was team president in the Soul's first incarnation. Pete Ciarrocchi, owner of the Philadelphia sports bar Chickie's and Pete's, and Cosmo DeNicola are also part of the new ownership group.

Spencer said a salary cap with nonnegotiable, slotted salaries will help ease some of the financial burden that ended the original AFL. He said all players have one-year contracts, meaning the Soul will have their pick of free agents at the end of the season. There is no "expansion" draft.

Spencer said he hopes to have a coach soon, possibly by the end of the month.

The Soul will play their home games at the Wachovia Center.

Spencer said the owners had the option of starting this season, but decided to spend more time building toward next year.

"We knew it would come back, we were just waiting to see in what form in what come back," Spencer said. "It crushed us to leave, but the league was on a path to self destruction."

The Soul debuted in the 2004 season backed by Bon Jovi's considerable star power. He wore a Soul jersey at packed concerts and was involved in local and national promotional work for the team. Bon Jovi was considerably more well known than anyone on the Soul, and became a local philanthropist.

The Soul won their first nine games and the Eastern Division title in 2008 before going on to win the championship with Bon Jovi in attendance. This year he delivered on a promise of a free concert in Philadelphia for Soul fans to celebrate the title.

"I will not be part of the ownership group due to my focus and attention being on the current Bon Jovi worldwide tour, but I have fond memories of my experience with the Soul and especially our 2008 ArenaBowl championship season," Bon Jovi said. "I continue to be a fan of the team and want nothing but continued success on and off the field for the Soul."

The Soul were a hit in Philadelphia and found their niche among the four major pro sports teams. The Soul drew 131,817 fans for an average of 16,477 and sold out four of their eight home games in 2008.

Spencer knows winning back fans could take time. He wants them to realize the revamped business model should allow them the stability to stick around for the long haul.

Former AFL teams that resumed operations include Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Arizona, Utah, Orlando and Tampa Bay.