SBJ/August 31 - September 6, 1998/No Topic Name

After title game, more Arena building

The Arena Football League made it to the big time, at least for an afternoon, with the national broadcast of its title game on Aug. 23, the first league game televised on one of the major networks.

Now the AFL hopes to leverage that exposure and its success to reach a national audience more often. The AFL wants to quadruple sponsorships by next year and increase the number of nationally and locally televised games.

The league also is examining creating a minor league and expanding overseas. And the AFL is close to bringing on board either the National Football League or ESPN as a strategic partner.

"The first 12 years, the need was to get teams on the field, but now the opportunities are greater than ever before," said David Baker, AFL commissioner. "The critical issue is not whether we will grow, but how are we going to grow, what cities will we grow in, and how will we spread awareness."

Between October and January, the league expects to produce a five-year strategic plan entitled "Arena Football 2000" as a blueprint for bringing the fledgling sport into the 21st century.

Once the butt of jokes — what with a 50-yard field and a playing field surrounded by dasher boards — the league now has more than a dozen NFL teams expressing interest in buying AFL franchises. The New Orleans Saints acquired a franchise earlier this year.

The ABC broadcast of Arena Bowl XII drew an overnight rating between 1.85 and 2.0. By contrast, the NFL-sponsored World Bowl final drew a 1.4 rating.

In Tampa Bay, where Arena Bowl XII was played, the game drew an overnight rating of 4.0, and in Orlando, home of the winning team, the game got a 7.0 overnight rating.

"It is a sport well made for television," said Jim Boland, president and chief executive of the Gund Arena Co., which is considering bringing an AFL team to Cleveland.

The AFL recently completed the acquisition of patent rights to the sport, clearing the way for new equity holders to invest. ESPN, which broadcasts AFL games, and the NFL, which views the sport as a way to provide year-round football, have been considering equity stakes in the 12-year-old league.

Other strategic initiatives include the creation of a minor league. The AFL has been contacted by dozens of cities with 3,000- to 6,000-seat arenas about procuring a team, Baker said.

AFL attendance was more than 1.4 million, the third consecutive year that attendance topped the 1 million mark. The Arizona Rattlers, last year's Arena Bowl champions, averaged the most fans with 15,785. The Florida Bobcats, who played only three home games, had the lowest, averaging fewer than 2,000.

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ABC, ESPN, New Orleans Saints, NFL

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