SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/Other News

AFL goes 1-1 in off-season

The Arena Football League has long talked of international expansion, but its first foray into a foreign market didn't go so well: The Toronto Phantoms have folded after two seasons of play.

Team officials notified the AFL last week that they would drop out of the league for financial reasons.

"The main thing is a lack of financial commitment from all our investors for the 2003 season," said Phantoms President Rob Godfrey. "We budgeted to lose money for three years, but in the first two years, we lost more than we budgeted."

Godfrey refused to reveal how much money the team lost but said the exchange rate alone cost the team upwards of $500,000 a year.

"We didn't blow the doors off in attendance, and we were battling the dollar," he said. "We were taking in Canadian [dollars] and paying out American [dollars], and it hurt us."

Last year, the Phantoms had an average paid attendance of 6,975, compared to 6,922 during the previous season. The Phantoms ranked 14th out of the AFL's 16 teams in average attendance.

The AFL's new television deal, which begins this season with NBC, was also a factor in the team's demise. The AFL moved up its schedule to February through June rather than April through August to accommodate NBC. That switch posed major scheduling problems for the Phantoms, who shared Air Canada Centre with the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA's Toronto Raptors.

"It was hard to get good dates," Godfrey said.

While AFL officials are banking on the television deal to boost visibility and attract corporate partners, Phantoms officials said a lack of sponsors was another factor in the decision to shut down.

"This year there was a decline in the number of our sponsors, and we are in a crowded market," Godfrey said, refusing to disclose how many sponsors the team lost. "There was just too much competition."

The Phantoms franchise is owned by 16 partners, including Rogers Communications, which owns 50 percent of the team. The investment group paid about $7 million for the franchise, which was known as the New England Sea Wolves until it was relocated to Toronto for the 2001 season. Phantoms investors will try to reach a financial settlement with the AFL over the terms of the contraction.

The AFL will begin its 2003 season in February with 16 teams, including the expansion Denver Crush, owned by former Denver Broncos star John Elway and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.

The league also is hoping to add teams in Philadelphia and New Orleans. Both cities may join in 2004, said league spokesman Chris McCloskey.

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