AFL Starts 30th Anniversary Season – Who Should Care?
The Arena Football League is about to kickoff its 30th Anniversary season, a feat that not very many professional sports leagues can claim to have reached.
The turf is about to be rolled out and laid down. The infamous rebound nets and uprights will be constructed and hung from the arena rafters to make this niche sport the exciting brand of competition that it is.
But how many people really know that the AFL season kicks off today? And to be honest, who should really care?
The 2016 AFL season saw eight teams based from coast to coast compete for the prestigious ArenaBowl title. The 2017 season is going to have quite a different feel.
Gone are the Portland Steel (no ownership), Los Angeles KISS (good riddance to rock band owners in the AFL in general!), Jacksonville Sharks (moved to National Arena League), Orlando Predators (league disagreements), and the Arizona Rattlers (moved to Indoor Football League). All that was left were the Tampa Bay Storm, Cleveland Gladiators, and the ArenaBowl champion Philadelphia Soul.
Now enter Ted Leonsis, the owner of Monumental Sports and Entertainment based out of Washington DC. He has already doubled down on the Arena Football League by starting two new franchises for the 2017 season in both Washington DC and Baltimore. Coincidentally, these two new teams will open the season against each other tonight.
“Cities and indoor sports are very, very important for the next generation of sports fans,” said Leonsis. “In new buildings, there have high speed cameras….and data analytics in real time, uploading of graphics and the like. I think indoor sports are advantaged.”
His thoughts are to get in while the league is struggling and to help rebuild it.
While that is all well and good, that leaves only five teams, almost all on the east coast, for the 2017 landmark 30th Anniversary season for the AFL.
Once again, who should really care?
For obvious reasons, the owners of each of these five teams should care. They own their teams and almost all of them (except Philadelphia) own their own arenas and other sports teams. As such, one would think that they would want this season to be successful. A successful season would show that there is viability in this league and could possibly help to persuade others that own their own facilities and other sports teams that this is something that they should invest in for the future (<i>basically, it is this premise that will either revive the AFL to heights that it has not seen since its heyday in the mid 2000s or will make it a thing of the past</i>).
Hopefully, the 120 players (yes, I am including the 3 inactives for each team each week) and the Arena Football League Players Union care. A successful season could mean potential continued employment for them and other football players looking to play in this league in 2018 and beyond. Whether most people believe it or not, the Arena Football League puts forth the best talent of any of the indoor/arena football leagues across this country. Almost all players in other smaller indoor leagues strive to make it to this level. The players in the league this season need to make this a very hard fought and competitive season to make it appealing to the fans in each of the competing cities. A non-competitive or boring product could potentially leave this league struggling to appeal to fans looking for a quality football product to follow in the spring and summer.
A successful season for the AFL will also mean good things for the Players Union. The original collective bargaining agreement that was signed years back expires at the end of this season. A positive season will provide a solid backdrop for the union to negotiate a new CBA with the league going forward. It would also most likely mean a change in pay grade and possibly pay structure for its players as well. There is a lot at stake this season for both the players and the AFLPU.
The fans in each of the five cities that will actually get to have a team this season should care. The Arena Football League has always provided one of the most fan-friendly environments in all of sports. Tickets are not too expensive (although that can probably now be debated), you are close to the game, and the players themselves interact with fans. The league has always prided itself in that and that is one aspect that should never change should this league continue to exist after this season. To fans in these cities; support your teams. You will be glad that you did.
Now while the owners and their staffs will have their work cut out for them to bring in people to the arenas and make them fans of this game and this league, if it is done the right way, they should be able to build solid fan bases that will support their teams and this league for years to come.
And last but not least, we, the long time supporters and followers of this league and this game should care. This is the top tier of football not named NFL or CFL. And while it is hanging on by a thin thread, it is still football and quality football. A successful season for the AFL could potentially mean expansion once again and you just never know, it just might end up being in an arena near you once again.
So here’s to the AFL and its 30th Anniversary season!
Let’s all show we care.
Jeff has been writing for ArenaFan.com since 2004. Originally from New York, Jeff has been living in the Chicago area for the past ten years and is an avid football fanatic. He holds a BA in communications from Hofstra University in New York and a sports management certificate from Loyola University in Chicago.