The Arena Football League is back in business and, its 15 teams and ownership groups hope, built for the long haul.
There were a few false starts, figuratively, when it was announced in September that Spokane was joining a new league. At the time, the league office was short on specifics and over the next few months several new teams were added while others departed.
Many of the obstacles were resolved when the new league, known as Arena Football One, acquired AFL’s assets for $6.1 million in a bankruptcy settlement. On Wednesday, the new league announced it will relaunch as the AFL, a brand name familiar to football fans.
“We’re back, better than ever,” commissioner Jerry Kurz said in a conference call that included Mike Ditka, co-owner of the Chicago Rush; Danny White, president of the Arizona Rattlers; and coaches Mike Hohensee (Chicago) and Tim Marcus (Tampa Bay), the AFL’s all-time winningest coach.
The new AFL combines former AFL franchises such as Chicago, Tampa Bay and Arizona, with arenafootball2 graduates, including Iowa, Tulsa, Bossier-Shreveport and Spokane, which won two af2 titles after joining in 2006. The AFL folded in 2009, sidelined by a flawed economic model.
“The AFL has a storied, 23-year tradition,” Shock majority owner Brady Nelson said. “People have heard of the AFL name and a lot of fans have an emotional connection to the league.”
Shock head coach Rob Keefe played for Philadelphia when the Soul won the AFL championship in 2008.
“It’s extremely important (to have the AFL name, logos, history),” he said. “When you have all these other levels of indoor football, the AFL is truly the ultimate.”
The AFL also released more details on its television agreement, playoff structure and expansion plans. NFL Network will televise 18 AFL games on Friday nights. Spokane will appear twice – July 16 at Iowa and July 23 vs. Chicago. Spokane also has an agreement to televise home games locally on SWX. Chicago, with six, has the most NFL Network appearances. Five teams will be on once. Alabama is the only team not on the broadcast schedule.
Spokane will not play the AFL lid-lifter on April 2, as was announced in January. That honor will go to Chicago and Iowa, to be televised on NFL Network. Spokane’s game with Milwaukee has been moved to 8 p.m.
“To be on twice, I think that’s acceptable,” Nelson said. “And we have a chance to be on three more times (in the playoffs).”
Eight teams will qualify for the playoffs. The higher seeds will host and the Arena Bowl will be played at the highest remaining seed, Kurz said. The league is open to other options in the future, including a neutral site, Kurz said.
Nelson said the 15 ownership groups contributed equally to pay the $6.1 million to purchase AFL’s assets, but Spokane kicked in a little more.
“We wanted to have a bigger voice in how (the AFL) is governed going forward,” Nelson said.
Training camp begins March 15. Spokane is on pace to sell 7,000-8,000 season tickets, Nelson said.
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