The Arizona Rattlers officially joined the Indoor Football League on Monday, a move that should have a positive impact on the Spokane Empire and the IFL.
Arizona brings name recognition, stability and a tradition of success. The Rattlers won five ArenaBowls and finished runner-up five times in 24 AFL seasons.
Arizona and expansion Salt Lake offset the loss of Tri-Cities and Billings to keep the IFL at an expected 10 members for 2017.
The Rattlers are the latest franchise to exit the AFL for the IFL, following Spokane last season and Iowa two years ago. The departure of Arizona, Orlando, Jacksonville, Los Angeles and Portland leaves the AFL with just four teams: Philadelphia, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and expansion Washington.
“It’s further evidence that the IFL is now the premier indoor league and it’s also somewhat evident that our view, our forecast that the AFL wasn’t a viable business model has now been proven,” Spokane majority owner Nader Naini said.
Naini called the Rattlers a “high-quality organization” and their addition “brings a lot of credibility and shows we’re building something sustainable in the IFL.”
Spokane and Arizona were AFL rivals from 2010-15, often playing in front of large crowds. Empire coach Adam Shackleford was coaching at IFL Tri-Cities during that time frame but he’s known Arizona coach Kevin Guy for years, dating back to arenafootball2.
“They’ll have roster turnover and that will be very different,” said Shackleford, who guided Spokane to the IFL championship game last season. “But the thing that won’t be different is Kevin is an outstanding coach and recruiter.
“If you’re a true football coach, which he is and I am, the outdoor aspects of our league would intrigue any coach to get back to what we grew up on. He and I have had those conversations before, going back to our outdoor roots. I enjoy it and I think he will, too.”
Arizona will have a late start finding players, but the Phoenix-based franchise is located in the largest IFL city and will play in the largest facility. Talking Stick Resort Arena, home of the NBA Suns, seats 18,422. Arizona averaged nearly 13,000 last season.
It’ll be interesting to monitor the Rattlers’ attendance in 2017. Spokane, which had to rebrand from the Shock to Empire after leaving the AFL, suffered a significant drop in season-ticket sales and averaged just 5,275 per game, roughly 2,750 less than in 2015.
“We have to continue to improve both on and off the field,” said Naini, who last May called 2017 a key year for the 11-year-old franchise. “With this move from Arizona and Iowa and ourselves, and the fact that we put a winning product on the field, I’d like to think there will be a lot more support from the local community.”
It wasn’t known if Arizona will have to rebrand but owner Ron Shurts told the Arizona Republic, “Our intention is to stay with the Rattlers.”
Jacksonville indicated when it left the AFL that it planned on joining a rival league, thought to be the IFL.
“We’re not going to bring on any other teams as far as I know,” said Naini, chairman of the IFL’s executive committee. “We’re moving forward with scheduling.”