Iowa's Concern Leaves At Least Three Up in Air for 2015
Never before in AFL history have all of the teams that finished one season gone on to play the next season in the same city which they were playing in before. There was hope that the 2015 season was going to be first of its kind. However, at least three teams are in limbo for next year, including the Iowa Barmstormers, who are reportedly considering a move to a lower level league next year, per Channel 13 WhoTV in Des Moines.
This probably shouldn't be considered the shock of all shocks. The Barnstormers are one of the seven teams who started off the 2010 season who are still around in their same location, but they have consistently been one of the underachieving teams in the league. Iowa has never had a winning record in this form, and it is just 31-57 with an average attendance of 8,504 fans per game. That attendance number is indeed higher than the league average in that stretch, but attendance steadily dropped from 2010 at 9,438 fans per game to a franchise-low 7,556 fans per game in 2013. That number did increase at 8,201 fans per game this year, but that was just 10th amongst the 14 teams.
The problem, according to the Channel 13 report, is twofold. The first involves fielding a competitive team. The Barnstormers have never really signed a "big name" free agent in their history, and state income is just one of the many reasons why players with options would rather go play for markets such as Orlando, Jacksonville, or Tampa Bay, all within the state of Florida where there is no state income tax.
The other issue involves travel. One look at a map of the AFL teams in 2014 will show you that the Barnstormers are nowhere legitimately near any team in the league. There is no such thing as an easy bus trip, and flying out of Des Moines, especially to other markets without major airports, has to be incredibly difficult.
Then again, if you take a look at that map, there isn't a heck of a lot around the San Antonio Talons or the New Orleans VooDoo either. Not surprisingly, these two franchises are reportedly up in the air for 2015 as well.
The Talons have spent the entire year owned by the Arena Football League, and though numerous attempts have been made to secure an owner, at least as of this point, one has not been secured. The Orlando Predators appear to become the first team in the history of the AFL to survive for the long run, as David Siegel has purchased the team and will assume control at the end of the season. San Antonio might not be as fortunate.
There are no imminent reports of the VooDoo being in trouble, but the handwriting is on the wall. The team averaged just 5,504 fans per game at the Smoothie King Center this year, the second worst attendance in the league behind Orlando. The Preds though, are at least moving back to Downtown Orlando next season and should see a notable increase back towards 10,000+ in attendance. The VooDoo have no such imminent help on the way.
Last September, the AFL announced that all of its franchises had given a two-year commitment from all of its franchises, and it cited that reason for the fact that neither the Chicago Rush nor the Utah Blaze were coming back for 2014.
Sources have told ArenaFan.com that teams have until approximately the ArenaBowl to commit to playing in the 2015 season.
The AFL averaged 8,417 fans per game this season, the highest mark that it has had during the Jerry Kurz era (2010 - present). However, if San Antonio, Iowa, and New Orleans were removed, that number would have jumped up to 8,960 per game. Consider that Orlando averaged 12,089 fans per game over the course of 2010-2013 when the team played in Downtown Orlando. If that number returns next year, the three franchises in question leave the league, and everyone else remains exactly the same, the league's average attendance would skyrocket to 9,567 fans per game with four markets averaging over 10,000 fans per game.
Fifteen teams began play in the AFL in 2010, and nine other markets have had clubs in that stretch as well. Of the original 15 teams, only seven remain in their same markets. Of the 24 teams, 10 have either folded or moved.
Vince Neil has already received preliminary approval to start an expansion team next season in Las Vegas. Any further expansion plans would generally be revealed around the ArenaBowl. If the league was to drop to 12 teams next season, it would be the least amount of teams in the AFL since 1994 when only 11 teams were fielded.