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Arena Football

Sometime around 1994, my father’s Navy buddy, a man by the name of Tom Abbott, invited me to an Orlando Predators game, the local arena football team. I had no idea what Arena football was, but as a ten-year-old kid I was excited to find out. I’ll never forget walking into the O-Rena which was packed with people and seeing half a football field surrounded by hockey-style boards. It was an amazing sight, and the game was action packed.

I remember they had mini blimps that dropped things from the sky and one of the things they dropped was a mini football that remained on my shelf for a decade as a reminder of this amazing evening.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was a huge fan of arena football, but I definitely enjoyed the sport when I could. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, the premier league, the Arena Football League had games on regular TV as well as cable. I was living near Memphis at the time, and the Arena Football League 2 (their minor league) had a team, the Memphis Xplorers, that I loved to attend games. It was good cheap fun, and the game moved so much faster than normal football. I even made a trip out to Nashville to see the Nashville Kats play one time.

The Arena Football League was popular enough that EA Sports put out two video games.

were stripped-down versions of Madden, and I remember being disappointed with them, but I think it’s a testament just to how popular the sport was at one time.

But then the recession hit in 2008, and the Arena Football League folded. In 2010, the Arena Football 2 league, bought the names and trademarks and took over the Arena Football League, so basically the minor league, became the major league overnight, but things were never the same. The league struggled, teams closed up shop often, and in 2019 the league went bankrupt.

Other leagues existed such as the Indoor Football League, but despite a solid management it’s never had the television exposure that the Arena Football League had and thus has always been viewed as lesser than.

2023, a new ownership group emerged and purchased the rights (there are now some reports that they only licensed the rights) to the Arena Football League with a plan to launch a sixteen-team league in 2024. Last week, the Arena Football League began play as I sat back and watched the trainwreck.

The lack of social media, an updated website, conflicting social media accounts (I guess some of the old AFL accounts are still up) really showed how disorganized this league was. Then just a few days before the league was to begin play, the NFL Network (which had agreed to air weekly games) announced they would not be airing any Arena Football League games that week. The league put together a site where you could watch the streams, but what began as eight possible streams, ended up as only three streams, with a fourth being hosted on Vyre, a site I had never heard of before.

I’m sure they’ll be a documentary on this in a year or two, but the league was clearly not organized or ready for play. One team, the Philadelphia Soul (a popular team owned by Bon Jovi back in the original AFL days) traveled to their game only to find that the bus that was supposed to pick them up did not arrive. The Super 8 motel locked up their belongings  after that the team’s check bounced. The team was disbanded, the players and staff not paid, while the AFL got a semi-pro team from Dallas to step in and play as the Philadelphia Soul.

Another team, the Iowa Rampage, were playing their games inside a rodeo arena. The arena was not safe, looked terrible, and the nets looked like they came off a fishing boat. The team ceased operations this week after just one game. Although, another team claims to still be playing this same team this weekend.

three owners ran out of money before the season even started (this league and its owners seem to have been mostly propped up by crypto), but it’s been absolute chaos from the get-go. The NFL Network announced this week they would not be airing any games this season. From the streams I watched last week, one stream was professional (Albany vs. Orlando) while another stream (Iowa vs. Rapid City) looked to be put together by a high school A/V club in the 90’s.

The commissioner was scheduled to give a live update Thursday night, but never did. The Georgia Force, who were not paid for last weekends game, nor do they have any travel vouchers, schedule was changed and now they are supposed to play in Salem, Oregon, completely across the United States.

The really sad part is the AFL management isn’t being transparent and because the league is a reboot none of the big news organizations are picking it up. There are no articles on ESPN or Fox Sports, instead they just want to keep running the same three stories they run every day. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer did a nice write up on the Soul and their issues.

A lot of the news is coming from the players themselves over social media. It’s a shame, because quite a few of the teams really seem to have their stuff together such as the new Nashville Kats, Orlando Predators, and Albany Firebirds. Those three teams (and towns) have had established arena teams before, and I guess the people around them know what they are doing.

The Nashville Kats are not playing in the Bridgestone Arena anymore but the Memorial Auditorium looks great

I’ll be honest, I expected the entire league to fold this week, but it hasn’t. Most of the games will be aired on Vyre, so I’m interested in watching some of that this weekend, but I must say, I’m disappointed. I was really excited for the new launch of the Arena Football League, but it’s been a bit of a mess and if they somehow make it to the end of the season I’ll be really surprised.

After I wrote this the Billings team owner has called for the resignation of the CEO and Commissioner. 

Published in#WeblogPoMo2024Sports

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