After canceling their 2009 season, the Arena Football League has shut down entirely and appears headed for bankruptcy. Earlier this week, the league office released a short statement indicated that it had ceased operations because owners were “unable to reach any consensus on restructuring the league over the past eight months.” The league had reached a new agreement with players earlier this year, but was unable to convince enough owners that they had a viable plan to return to profitability.
Even before the decision was made to cancel the 2009 season this past December, it had been a tumultuous off-season for the Arena Football League. It began with the resignation of long time AFL commissioner David Baker just two days before the Arena Bowl championship game. Though Baker put a positive spin on his resignation saying that he felt it was time, the timing was curious. Imagine the symbolic weight of the gesture were David Stern to resign right before the NBA finals, or Roger Goodell to step down before the Superbowl”even though Baker insisted that it the decision was strictly for personal reasons it doesnt exactly send a positive signal about the stability of the league.
In October, the owner of the New Orleans VooDoo announced that the team would cease operations”despite being one of the league leaders in attendance. In announcing that the team would fold, owner Tom Benson (who also owns the NFL Saints) suggested that the end of the five year old franchise was in no way an indictment of the New Orleans market. Instead, he cryptically explained that it was due to circumstances currently affecting the league and the team.”
A dispersal draft to reassign the VooDoo personnel was scheduled and postponed several times amid assurances from the AFL office that rumors of financial instability were unfounded.
The inability to get any consensus on a business model for the league reportedly served as the final nail in the AFLs coffin. A major problem was skyrocketing player salaries, and some sort of compensation system tied to team revenues was a necessity. That agreement was reached with the players, but a bigger conflict between the owners on a variety of business model related issues were never able to be resolved.
Despite the demise of the Arena Football League, it wont be the end of the road for the twenty two year old sport. The 50 yard indoor war lives on in the AF2 league which, ironically, was originally started as something of a developmental organization for the AFL. The league plays in smaller markets and has a more realistic salary structure. A number of current AFL players”and possibly a couple of AFL franchises”could end up in AF2.
Ross Everett is a freelance writer specializing in casino gambling, fine dining and sports betting. He has appeared on a number of TV and radio programs offering strategies for successful NFL football betting. He lives in the Nevada desert with three Jack Russell Terriers and a pet llama. He is currently writing a biography of former NFL quarterback Jim Plunkett.