AFL has Monumental day in DC
WASHINGTON DC- The wait is finally over. After months of speculation and rumors, the AFL has finally announced an expansion franchise for the 2017 season. An unnamed team will call Washington DC and the Verizon Center home next season with Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis owning the team. “ I think being able to bring affordable, family friendly accessible sports into our city is a main driver for our success and for bringing our community closer together.” Leonsis said in the introductory press conference.
“I’m an adrenalin junky around startups.” Leonsis said in a one on one interview with ArenaFan. “It’s the most exciting time, and to help be apart of the relaunch of the AFL and to become one of the pillars and major media markets is something that excites us and we’re willing to make the necessary investments and do the right things the right way here.” Leonsis said.
Leonsis is the Founder and CEO of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns and operates the Washington Wizards of the NBA, Washington Capitals of the NHL, Washington Mystics of the WNBA, and the Verizon Center, the home of these three teams and the new AFL team. Leonsis will be the third of the new AFL owners model which is to bring in NBA and NHL owners who also own their cities arena. Cleveland Gladiators owner Dan Gilbert owns the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans Arena, and the Lake Erie Monsters an AHL Hockey team. The Tampa Bay Storm’s Chairman Jeffrey Vinik is also the owner of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lighting.
“We’re one of the few organizations in the country that owns the building, the NBA team, the NHL team, and the WNBA team, so we’ve got close to a million people in our database where we have their email address. Certainly we’ll be marketing to them, because this is a summer sport we’ll also be going very active to young people and their families that are on vacation. We’ll be very aggressive marketers and we’re hoping to see sellouts at The Verizon Center. It’s not that many games, and we want to make each game feel like a big event.” Leonsis said.
“We want excellence. We have a lot to learn, Roger (Mody) will be our lead here in making sure that we build the team in the right way. We are very committed to investing in not only our team, but the overall league. I hope to be able to work with our fellow owners to make sure that the league is at the highest quality in the way we present the game and the way we market and bring our game to a national and global audience using the new tools and the local and social and mobile and OTT.” Leonsis said.
“It’s also important to note that it’s a huge social responsibility that we’ve internalized everywhere in our organization about what the players stand for, and what the team stands for. We will make sure that our players become a big part of our community be it with high school football, and some of the secondary college football organizations. Our overall goal is to have all of our teams make the playoffs, all of our teams to win championships and to make lifelong memories, so this is the kickoff to that. We’re very happy and thrilled to be apart of this.” Leonsis said.
Roger Mody is the Co-Owner and Managing Partner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and the new AFL Team. Mody is the Chairman and CEO of The Mody Foundation, a company that’s goal is to provide health based, faith based, higher education, and athletics funding for inner-city economically disadvantaged children.
“We have been doing our due diligence for a little while now and we talked to other team owners, and spent time at the AFL league office and after discussing the option of DC as a market we decided it would be a great fit to the other products we have here with the Caps, Wizards, and Mystics.” Mody said to ArenaFan.
“We want to create a product that entices them to come down, in other words it has to be fast with a lot of scoring. There has to be some defense, like Derrick (Brooks) said we have to keep them under 60, but the goal is to create an affordable family environment that inspires them to come downtown.” Mody said.
Mody will be a key factor in determining the team's branding. The new AFL franchise still needs a name, color scheme, and logo. In addition to that, the team will hire a coaching staff and personnel department to construct their inaugural roster.
“We have to come up with a name for the team, develop logos, we have to come up with a color scheme, I have a hunch it may be Red White and Blue. Once we get to that point we will unveil the new uniforms, and we are really excited about that.” Mody said.
“We also need to hire a coach, and we’ve already started the process of identifying coaching candidates and as soon as we can there after we’ll have them here, they’ll fill out their staff and get personal people as well. Then we are going to scout the region, we are very fortunate we have over 130 colleges in the region to scout football players.” Mody said.
The AFL is currently in a unique situation with it’s rosters. With only eight teams in the league right now, each team has a roster that on paper looks like a very respectable team that would be a playoff contender in past seasons when there was less parity in the league. With the hope that the Portland Steel find a solid ownership group next season, the league would be at nine teams not including other expansion possibilities. The talk of new franchises in Mexico continues to come up in press conferences as Soul Owner Ron Jaworski said yesterday at the team's media day: “This year Univision will carry all Arena League games on Monday night to Mexico, and there will be expansion to Mexico next season.” Talks continue to grow about franchises in potential markets such as San Antonio and Sacramento as well. While nothing is confirmed, if these talks come true this would bring the league back to double digits, and more opportunities would become available for players. The pitch for DC however is a very strong one that will be hard to top.
“Ownership commitment, ownership resources, and the ability to manage this the way we do an NBA or NHL and WNBA franchise.” Leonsis said. “We’ll think big and we’ll make sure it’s the loudest building in the league and that we do things in a first class way.” Leonsis said.
“I think the DC area speaks for itself. The DC area is a booming region, it statistically outperforms a lot of other markets and we think we are a super city.” Mody said.
A lot of the praise for the addition of the new Washington franchise should go to the AFL’s Commissioner Scott Butera. Butera is the visionary for the new model ownership group and was able to secure a major market in Washington for the 2017 season.
“About a year ago myself and a core group of our owners decided that we needed to create a platform to bring this great sport to mainstream America.” Butera said. “We knew that to do that we needed to attract high quality ownership that was in attractive markets, that we could help broadcast what our sport was and to get people to know it. I don’t think we could’ve ever imagined that we would start by having folks of the quality of Monumental Sports and Entertainment lead by Ted Leonsis. They are a tremendous organization, they are a tremendous stewards of historic franchises here in Washington DC, they absolutely know how to run an arena and put on great entertainment and sports entertainment for a great fan base. They are a real leader in technology, media and broadcasting and all of the things that we want to do to shout out to the world what Arena Football is all about.” Butera said.
“This league is beginning to take off!” Philadelphia Soul Owner Ron Jaworski said. “I want to commend publicly our commissioner Scott Butera. I’ve been in this league since 2004, I’ve seen the ups and downs and the Arena Football League is ascending, it’s growing. With our partnerships with CBS, CBS Sports, ESPN, ESPN3, and Univision it continues to grow nationally, and internationally, so good things are happening on the Arena Football League front.” Jaworski said.
“What a great day.” LA KISS Owner and Musical Genius Gene Simmons said. “Welcoming Ted into our family is just the best thing that could happen to the AFL. Really there are more people out there that don’t know about us then know about us. There is only one way to go, and that is up.” Simmons said in the press conference.
“It’s great news for Washington DC, it’s great news for the AFL. It’s great for the community, you bring your family out, it’s faster, it’s sleeker and there is no time to figure out a defense when a 300 pound guy is coming down, and he’s looking at you like you’re lunch. It’s like adrenalin football, and after the game our players get on the field and sign autographs, take photos with the fans, we go to local hospitals it’s really good for the community.” Simmons said to ArenaFan.
Today felt like the beginning of a new chapter for the Arena Football League, one that will include international play in Mexico, new teams in big markets with NBA and NHL owners, and establishing the league as a major sporting league. Fans should have nothing but a positive outlook for the future of the AFL, as commissioner Butera and the rest of the AFL Front Office have already begun putting their plan into action.