Arena League Playing the Long Game
Fortitude paying off with added franchises in Atlantic City, Columbus
In the beginning of the 2018 season, CBS Sports play-by-play analyst Ari Wolfe predicted that there would be 8 teams playing in the Arena Football League in 2019. So, when ArenaBowl XXXI rolled around, fans breathlessly anticipated similar news they received at the end of the previous ArenaBowl that the league would announce expansion to other cities for the 2019 season.
Sadly, the news never came, so fans waited. And waited. And waited.
Then, around Christmas, the league posted on social media that there was some big news coming soon! An early Christmas gift in the form of expansion, perhaps? The only thing that the league unwrapped for their fans was… a new logo.
The new logo is pretty cool, but that was it. No expansion news. So, fans waited again. And waited. And waited.
Then, January 22 came and what joy! The league announced expansion to Atlantic City, NJ. The expansion franchise, which will unveil its team name this week, has moved quickly, hiring Ron James as their head coach and Shane Stafford to run the offense in AC. This will not be the first time an indoor football team will play at Boardwalk Hall: in 2004, the Atlantic City Card Sharks played their only season in the National Indoor Football League, finishing 9-5 and losing in the first round of the playoffs. (Author edit: AC AFL did NOT announce the team name at the press conference. COO George Manias announced that the team name and colors would be unveiled in March after the legal framework is completed.)
February 7 brought fans more great news as Columbus, OH was announced as the league’s sixth city with its third venture into the league. The first incarnation in Columbus was the Thunderbolts, who, in 1991, had the unfortunate distinction of being one of six teams in league history to have a winless season (0-10). The second team, the Destroyers, kept raucous crowds at Nationwide Arena enthralled for five seasons until the league declared bankruptcy in 2008. The Destroyers home attendance averaged over 14,000 during their five seasons of existence.
If that wasn’t enough good news, fans were given an early Valentine’s Day gift on February 13 with the release of the 2019 season and as an added bonus, the league gifted fans with some rule changes to speed up the game.
This brings me to my main point: I believe the Arena Football League is being wise in playing the long game. Unlike in years past where the league looks for a celebrity or NFL to fill the coffers of expansion, the league is taking a measured approach. This approach has helped stabilize the league as it looks towards future expansion.
Next year, the Columbus Soon-to-be-Named could have an in-state rival with the hopeful return of the Cleveland Gladiators. Could further expansion be looming down the road? If the Arena League has a successful season in 2019, I would imagine that the league would want to expand further, but at a pace of maybe one to two teams per season. I could see the league go to eight teams in 2020, maybe even 10 if they’re fortunate.
The long game has proven to be more effective for the league. Right about now, their patience is paying off.
Ryan McCarthy has been an on-and-off Internet columnist and blogger since 1997. He has been an avid follower of Arena Football since 1990 when the Albany Firebirds were established. Ryan currently attends Regent University, where he is pursuing his Bachelors degree in Communications with a Journalism concentration. He anticipates graduating toward the end of 2019. You can follow Ryan on Twitter at @rwhoisryanmcc