SBJ/October 19 - 25, 1998/No Topic Name

Arena board meeting has an NFL flavor

The Arena Football League held its autumn board meeting at National Football League headquarters in New York City last Tuesday in an important symbolic step in the budding relationship between the two leagues.

The organizations have spent months negotiating a partnership that could lead to the NFL buying a large stake in the AFL.

The meeting's locale suggests relations between the leagues are good, but both leagues publicly downplayed the significance of the gathering and its location.

"The purpose of us being here is to discuss league matters, one of which is how to strengthen our relationship with the NFL," said David Cooper, an AFL spokesman.

The AFL, which will field 15 teams in 1999, also met to consider approving several franchise applications, including those for groups from Chicago and Los Angeles. The league is expected this week to announce a Los Angeles franchise that would play in the Staples Center for the 2000 season.

The AFL disclosed that the New York CityHawks will move from Madison Square Garden to the Hartford Civic Center, which is also owned by MSG.

The AFL has also been in talks with ESPN about an equity investment from the cable channel, but it appears that the NFL will be the first to the table. While neither the NFL or AFL would disclose how large a position they are discussing, one source said a stake in the vicinity of 25 percent was likely.

For the NFL, an interest in the AFL would allow it to market football year-round, as well as use the AFL as an inexpensive method of promoting the sport globally. The NFL has yet to schedule any AFL matters on the agenda for its Oct. 27 board meeting in Kansas City.

At its May meeting, the NFL decided to allow its owners to buy AFL teams and franchises. The only one to do so is New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, but as many as seven NFL teams are interested.

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