Arena league to re-launch with 15 teams
Now that the Super Bowl is in the books, it’s time for football fans to go into hibernation until players gather for summer camps, right?
The Arena Football League, reborn under new leadership with 15 teams after folding last year, will kick off its 16-game season beginning April 2.
The NFL Network will broadcast selected games throughout the season, and Nevada sports gooks are once again expected to post betting lines.
Even though the league ceased operating last season and filed for bankruptcy, there was "respectable" betting interest in Las Vegas, according to one sports book supervisor.
"Arena Football never had the following of NFL or college football, but as a sport it generated as much action as ‘minor’ sports, such as golf or NASCAR," the supervisor said.
The new league will be set up differently than before, which organizers believe ensures a better chance of success.
AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz said the new AFL will follow the model of Major League Soccer in having all players and coaches employed by the league instead of by individual teams in a bid to "correct an economic model that failed."
That arrangement will allow the league to collectively seek out such needs as equipment deals and workers’ compensation coverage.
Kurz added that a new group of owners spent $6.1 million for the assets of the defunct Arena Football League, including the name, history and records. It will re-launch with 15 teams – about half of them from the former AFL and the remainder from what used to be known as arenafootball2.
In addition to the 15 teams, there are four other markets that could come into the league next year (2011) – Philadelphia, Southern California, Denver and Pittsburgh.
"We are so excited to be talking to the Philadelphia market and we would love nothing more than for Jon Bon Jovi, Craig Spencer and Ron Jaworski to join our league," Kurz said. "Our ownership has already extended an offer to them to join us. No one has done more for the brand of arena football than that collective group."
He added that there were no concrete plans for how many teams the AFL eventually hopes to include. There were 17 AFL teams when the league went bankrupt last year, and another 25 participated in af2.
"I think that horizon is open. Our ownership is dedicated to expansion and covering the country," Kurz said. "However, they’re also dedicated to bringing in expansion markets and teams as it is appropriate – when we can make sure that there’s great ownership in a city, great community support and it’s appropriate – not just to have teams here and there."
Former AFL teams that will resume operations include Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Arizona, Utah, Orlando and Tampa Bay. Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Alabama, Bossier-Shreveport, Iowa, Spokane, Jacksonville and Milwaukee will move from af2 into the new league.
Team owners and executives include former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White.
All players will be paid a uniform amount, Kurz said, although he kept that figure confidential. The AFL has already reached a one-year deal with the NFL Network to broadcast a Friday night game of the week, beginning with Chicago at Iowa on April 2. Kurz said 14 of the 15 teams will be featured during the regular season.
The eight-team playoffs and Arena Bowl, which will be played at the home of the higher seed, will also be televised.
The AFL had been playing its high-scoring brand of indoor football for 22 years before it folded last year. John Elway, Jerry Jones and Bon Jovi provided star power in management roles, and the league gained a bounce in credibility when Kurt Warner went on to lead the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title. Games were eventually shown on NBC and ESPN.
But revenue couldn’t keep up with costs, and the 2009 season was canceled before the league announced it was shutting down in August. Plans for the new league surfaced about a month later.
"The thing right now that everybody needs to realize is that there are a lot of sacrifices being made by a lot of people who are counting on this league succeeding and that the future is bright," White said.
"I think 2009, when the history books have been written, may go down as maybe the single most important year in the history of arena football because it was a chance for us to take a little bit of a break, step back. I kind of liken it to the pause that you take when you’re shifting gears ... I think with this model, with an opportunity for the owners to actually make a profit, the sky is the limit for the Arena Football League."
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