Outlaws, VooDoo, AFL in deep trouble after cancelation of Week 18 game
For the very first time in AFL history, a game has been canceled. The New Orleans VooDoo and the Las Vegas Outlaws were scheduled to play in Week 18, but on Thursday night, nine days before the game was scheduled, the Arena Football League announced that that game will not be played.
Logistically, this makes a ton of sense. Neither the VooDoo nor the Outlaws have ownership after both franchises were taken over by the league, and in this single-entity world which we are in, the other 10 league owners would have had to fork up the fees for things like rent, travel for the VooDoo from New Orleans to Las Vegas, hotels, and per diem.
The refund on ticket sales won't cost nearly as paying the tab for putting on the game would have been.
However, from just about every other metric imaginable, this is a complete disaster. The AFL made it 28 seasons before this one, and the only time a game was canceled was over a labor dispute in 2012 when the Cleveland Gladiators forfeited their game against the Pittsburgh Power when most of their team didn't show up. Money wasn't the issue, nor was it an issue of ownership which caused the game not to be played.
Up until 2007, there were always four things that separated the AFL from the rest of the indoor football leagues out there. The first was the rebound nets, which was patented until it expired that year. The second was pay scale, a margin which has been drastically slashed since that point. The third was national exposure with games being played on national television. The fourth was the fact that all of the AFL's games were going to be played.
We've never been a league with traveling teams of semi-pro players just looking to collect a paycheck. We've never been able to not put at least 1,000 fans in the stands at any of our games. And goodness knows that money was never the reason why all of the games on our schedule couldn't be completed.
Yet here we are, right at the end of the 29th season in our history, and we have hit a new low point.
But what are you telling fans right now of either of these teams? There was a contingent of VooDoo fans who had already prepaid their trip to the Las Vegas when the schedule was announced. Sure, the AFL is going to refund the cost of the tickets, but what about hotels and airfare? Yes, Las Vegas is a great town, and not having a game is no excuse to not enjoy the time there, but the whole purpose of the trip for this contingent was clearly to go support the VooDoo on the road.
If I'm a fan in New Orleans right now, between the lack of a winning product on the field and the way that the AFL has treated me, I'm not going back no matter if there is or is not an owner of the team in the future.
And what are you telling any prospective owners of the Las Vegas franchise? Clearly, this is an admission of guilt on the part of the AFL that it would cost more to put on a game at the Thomas & Mack Center than it would earn in base revenue from the game. If you can't make more money on game day than you spend, imagine how many other expenses there must be to incur running a team on a day-to-day basis. It's easy to see how both of these teams must have been operating under at least six-digit losses, if not seven-digit losses this season.
On top of that, you're dealing with advertisers who have paid for nine home games of dasher boards and other advertisements with the Outlaws. Clearly, those advertisers, even if they are getting reimbursed a portion of their payments to the team, aren't going to want to work with any future owners of the franchise either.
The one group that doesn't need to be worried here is the players. According to sources, the players will still get paid as if they had played in this game.
That doesn't change the problems this league has, though. Clearly, heading into the 2015 offseason, there are only 10 owners in this league, and if any of those 10 decide to bow out and there aren't replacement owners in New Orleans and Las Vegas, another reorganization can't possibly be out of the equation entirely. The AFL hasn't functioned with fewer than 12 teams since 1991 when there were just eight teams in the entire league.
Commissioner Scott Butera probably knew this year that he was taking over a ship which was taking on water. Though I'm still personally a believer that the AFL is in better shape now than it was in eight months ago at this time due to stronger leadership being in place, one has to wonder whether this ship can be patched up before it ultimately sinks.