In its 25th anniversary year, the Arena Football League finally has something to celebrate this season.
Spokane Shock majority owner Brady Nelson expects the full legal document- ation of the collective bargaining agreement to be signed today following a successful weekend in Chicago in which the league and the AFL players union reached an agreement on a five-year deal.
“I’m very happy,” Nelson said Tuesday. “We were getting very close to a lockout and I think that the damage would last a long time. Our goal going into this was not just to get a deal done, but to help arena football. We want guys here long term. Our fans want to see the same faces.
“This is something that everyone is excited about,” added Nelson, who was one of a handful of team representatives who led the effort on the league’s final offer.
“I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time,” he said. “When it got to the point where we were going down a path that was going to damage arena football, we needed to step in and do something, and I did kind of spearhead a different proposal and it ended up working out.”
Details of the CBA, which includes a more than 100 percent increase in base game salary, will be released during a live broadcast on Friday night when the NFL Network returns to the scene of the initial players strike.
The network will show the game between the New Orleans VooDoo (6-7) and Orlando Predators (2-11) in the first live airing of arena football since the network suspended broadcasts on May 11 in favor of tape-delayed showings.
“It’s going to be a chance for the union and team ownership to put it behind everybody and let the world know we’ve come to a long-term agreement,” Nelson said.
The network, in its third year of partnership with the AFL, opted for the tape delays when rumors of the initial player strike blew up in the season-opening game between the Pittsburgh Power and Predators in Orlando.
Owners of the two franchises fired their players a few hours before kickoff and used replacements in the game, but the strike – rumored to be league-wide – didn’t affect any other games on opening weekend.
Still, the tension between the two sides hung over the league until last weekend, when threats of a lockout became more serious. If the two sides hadn’t come to an agreement, owners were ready to use replacement players for the remainder of the season.
“Every team was preparing to do what we had to do, but it’s just not worth it,” Nelson said. “I’ve heard many times, ‘This is the year of the fan, this is the 25th year,’ and that is the most fan-unfriendly thing that could possibly happen, so (reaching a deal) was just critical for our credibility.”
“It’s very nice,” Shock coach Andy Olson echoed. “We don’t want to deal with strikes anymore. We want these guys to get paid and be happy.”
Bell, Geathers return
The injury-riddled Shock activated two key veteran players – linebacker Beau Bell and defensive lineman Jeremy Geathers – after both were recently released by the CFL’s BC Lions.
Bell arrived in Spokane this week, while Geathers, who leads the team in sacks despite not playing in Spokane since the sixth week of the season, has so far refused to report.
“Beau Bell and Jeremy Geathers are just two guys you can’t replace,” Olson said. “Jeremy is a special athlete and we really hope to get him back. (He’s) upset that he got cut up there, and rightfully so. … We’re in communication with him.”
All remaining AFL broadcasts this season will be live on the NFL Network, including ArenaBowl XXV on Aug. 10. … Shock receiver Brandon Thompkins, Spokane’s leading scorer with 32 TDs, was placed on injured reserve (ankle) and is likely done for the season. He was injured in a loss to Utah last weekend.