A lot of silly professional sports leagues have come and gone over the past 25 years, which makes it all the more impressive that the Arena Football League has been operating pretty much uninterrupted since 1987 and even rising to the point of having a national network TV deal (even if the deal wasn’t very lucrative).
(This might be the last you see of the AFL Championship trophy)
Famous owners jumped on board, like Bon Jovi and John Elway, and old-school franchises in places like Albany and Des Moines were phased out to expand to bigger markets and become more of a “major” sport. But it looks like it’s all coming to an end, as the AFL is close to becoming the first pro league to fall victim to the current economic crisis, if a couple of reports are to be believed. The league, however, isn’t conceding anything.
This past weekend we brought you the news from Columbus that it appeared that all was not well with the AFL, and the latest out of Colorado and Kansas City seems to confirm those suspicions.
The ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS says they’ve learned that there won’t be any 2009 season:
Arena Football League officials are expected to announce before the end of the week the league will suspend play for the 2009 season, the Rocky Mountain News has learned.
That will leave open dates at the Pepsi Center, where the AFL’s Colorado Crush has played since 2003.
There’s no indication of whether or not that means the league hopes to start again in 2010. Also, there’s no mention about the fate of AF2, the AFL’s minor league, which has 25 teams in smaller markets.
RMN cites a few warning signs that have been popping up over the last few months:
Earlier this week, the AFL released a statement saying the league is “working on long-term structural improvements.”
The league’s schedule for 2009 has not been released, and free agency and the dispersal draft have been placed on hold.
Longtime commissioner David Baker resigned earlier this year and the New Orleans franchise was disbanded.
The KANSAS CITY STAR is also reporting the potential shutdown, with even more solid sources:
Pete Likens, the director of communications for the Kansas City Brigade, told The Star on Wednesday that the players union agreed to the decision to suspend the season, and owners will hold a final vote on the matter, probably later Wednesday.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Likens said the owners will likely approve the one-year hiatus.
However, the league just posted a statement on ARENAFOOTBALL.COM today saying that nothing has been decided yet (but also not exactly guaranteeing that a season is going to happen):
Despite rumors and reports to the contrary, all AFL teams are continuing to work towards ArenaBowl XXIII. As it has previously stated, the AFL continues to work on long-term structural improvement options.
Some of the options may impact the 2009 season. There is currently no timetable for an announcement of any kind. We remain grateful to our fans for their enthusiasm and patience.
Orlando Predators owner Brett Bouchy is the mouthpiece for the “everything’s fine” faction right now, and according to the ORLANDO SENTINEL he not only expects a season but also thinks the 2009 schedule will be released in a couple of weeks.
There’s certainly a good chance a suspension might last for more than a year (and maybe forever), as a last-ditch effort to infuse the league with capital seems to have fallen through. From the KC STAR:
Speculation about the cash-strapped league’s future has intensified in recent days, as it became apparent that a $100 million deal the AFL announced in October with Platinum Equity, LLC, was in limbo.
In the deal, Platinum Equity would have purchased a large share of the 22-year old league and would have operated the AFL as a single entity. The deal would have given the 16-team league the infusion of capital it sorely needed, but it was supposed to have been finalized last month.
More to come soon, I’m sure.