SBJ/November 23 - 29, 1998/No Topic Name

AFL micro league: 150 teams in 10 years

The Arena Football League plans to launch a minor league system that could have 150 teams.

The AFL has generally been considered a minor league itself, but it now plans to launch a sprawling development league, dubbed arenafootball2, in as many as eight cities next year. The long-term goal is more than 150 cities in the next 10 years.

Arena Football has solid TV ratings in many of its markets but is not well-known elsewhere. The August league championship game, the first AFL game ever nationally broadcast on a major network, fetched a 1.6 rating on ABC.

The minor league teams will play in arenas that seat 4,000 to 9,000 people, in cities with populations ranging from 50,000 to 250,000. The league hired United Sports Ventures to assist with the expansion plan.

"There has been a tremendous amount of enthusiasm from smaller markets that aren't what you would call TV markets," said Neal Pilson, president of Pilson Communications Inc. and a consultant to the league. "The league was basically trying to find a way to take advantage of the many, and I mean many, application inquiries they were getting from small cities around the country."

The structure of the minor league system is still unclear, and questions remain — such as whether existing AFL clubs will control the system or whether the new teams will be owned by individual investors. Each minor league franchise is expected to sell for $300,000 to $500,000. If the league reaches its goal of 150 teams, it will raise $45 million to $75 million in franchise fees alone during the next decade.

The AFL hopes to have Southeast and Midwest arenafootball2 conferences ready to play in the spring, when the AFL's 15 teams begin their season.

"There are 152 minor league hockey teams throughout the United States, and within the next decade our goal is that there will be at least that many arenafootball2 teams as an off-season summer complement," said AFL Commissioner David Baker. "It will be a great development system for players, officials, staff members and, most importantly, the next generation of arena football fans."

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