SBJ/January 23 - 29, 2006/SBJ In Depth

Arena Football League: A history of playing rough indoors

1981

Former NFL executive Jim Foster draws an outline of an arena football game on a manila envelope while watching an indoor soccer game at Madison Square Garden.

1986
After spending three seasons with the now-defunct USFL, Foster sets up an AFL “test game” in Rockford, Ill., between the Rockford Metros and the Chicago Politicians.

1987
The Arena Football League debuts a six-game regular season with four teams: the Chicago Bruisers, Denver Dynamite, Pittsburgh Gladiators and Washington Commandos.
ArenaBowl, the league’s championship game, airs nationally on ESPN.

1991
The league expands to eight teams. The Arizona Rattlers’ expansion rights awarded to Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to begin play in 1992.

1993
The Miami Hooters join as the only U.S. pro team with team naming rights. The club folds after three seasons.

1995
ArenaBowl IX sets an attendance record as 25,087 watch Tampa Bay defeat Orlando at the Thunderdome (Tropicana Field) in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The L.A. Cobras played one season in 1988.
1996
In the league’s 10th season, attendance tops 1 million for the first time. ESPN’s telecast of ArenaBowl X draws 1.04 million households.

1997
David Baker, former mayor of Irvine, Calif., named AFL commissioner.

1998
The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Rampage, owned by Orlando Magic vice chairman Dan DeVos, begins play as the last of the small-market expansion teams.
NFL owners adopt a resolution to allow NFL teams to own AFL teams within their own markets. The New Orleans VooDoo’s expansion rights are awarded soon afterward to Saints owner Tom Benson, in the first affiliation between an AFL team and an NFL owner. The club begins play in 2004.
Los Angeles Avengers expansion rights are awarded to Casey Wasserman, who at 24 becomes the youngest owner of a U.S. pro sports team.
ArenaBowl XII on ABC attracts 1.6 million households. It is the first AFL game shown nationally by a major, over-the-air network.

1999
The NFL acquires an option to buy nearly half of the AFL in a move that would give the NFL a direct pipeline into a summertime audience while providing the AFL an added dose of credibility. The deal gives the NFL the option to buy up to 49 percent of the AFL within three years and a role in running the league.
On May 8, Portland Forest Dragons quarterback James Guidry lays on a field, paralyzed and — for a moment — not breathing. The injury sets off a chain of labor-related events that leads to the start of a players union.
Chicago Rush expansion rights are awarded to a group that includes former NFL great Walter Payton, to begin play in 2001.
The AFL approves a developmental league, arenafootball2 (af2).

2000
A three-year, $25 million television rights and promotional deal begins with ESPN, ESPN2 and TNN. ABC will air the ArenaBowl.
The Dallas Desperados’ expansion rights are awarded to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
On Feb. 12, a class-action antitrust lawsuit led by Guidry accuses the league of poor pay and benefits. Days later, the league cancels the 2000 season.
On Feb. 26, claiming that players had formed a union (the AFL Players Organizing Committee) headed by former agent Frank Murtha, the league says the season will proceed as scheduled under an interim CBA.
Af2 begins its inaugural season in April with 15 teams. Executive director Mary Ellen Garling is the first woman to head up a professional football league.
Detroit Fury expansion rights are awarded to Detroit Lions owner William Ford Jr. The Fury folds after four seasons.
The Albany Firebirds, who have been in the league for 11 seasons, and the Iowa Barnstormers fold as part of the league’s plan to have all teams in large markets.
In August, both sides ratify a new six-year CBA. However, in September the National Labor Relations Board, on behalf of AFL players, files a complaint seeking to disband the AFLPOC and to declare its labor agreement with the league invalid. Following a six-month investigation, the National Labor Relations Board agrees that the AFLPOC has never been supported by a majority of AFL players and was illegally recognized by the AFL owners.

Kurt Warner played three seasons and in
two ArenaBowls for the Iowa Barnstormers.
2001
In January, the dispute is settled with the newly unionized players association, as owners agree to pay $5 million in back pay to current and former players. The settlement helps forge the league’s first CBA.
Ford Trucks and the U.S. Army become league sponsors; an Internet partnership with NFL.com also is created.
The AFL season begins in April with a record 19 franchises, including the Toronto Phantoms, the league’s first Canadian team. The club folds after two seasons.
Denver Crush expansion rights are awarded to Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, former Broncos quarterback John Elway and Denver Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke. Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams Jr. is also approved for a future team, the Nashville Kats.

2002
NFL owners table the decision to buy up to 49 percent of the AFL, allowing the option it held to lapse.

2003
NBC’s rights deal begins with four regional games. An average of 1.7 million households tune in, the league’s biggest TV audience ever. The league averages 1.13 million regular-season viewers.

Gatorade becomes a league sponsor.

Philadelphia Soul expansion rights are awarded to singer Jon Bon Jovi and Craig Spencer.

2004
An eight-year CBA is ratified through the 2010 season.
Champs Sports announces a three-year partnership with the Arena Football League to become its official athletic retailer.
A three-year, $16 million renewal is signed with ADT Security Services, the league’s biggest sponsorship deal to date to take effect in 2005. The league also signs deals with Upper Deck, Champ Sports and Nestlé, and renewals with the U.S. Army and Aaron Rents.
On Feb. 8, 2.23 million households tune in to NBC’s season kickoff, featuring the debut of the Soul. It remains the most-watched AFL game ever.
Record regular-season attendance: 1.8 million.
NBC signs a two-year extension through 2006.
A multiyear partnership with Nike makes it the first exclusive uniform/apparel supplier.
Spalding is named the official Pop Warner football and uses an AFL design.
A three-year licensing deal with Haddad Apparel Group is its first children’s clothing agreement.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank becomes the new owner of the Georgia Force.
Country singer Tim McGraw joins the Nashville Kats’ ownership group.
Fox Sports Networks announces a multiyear agreement to carry regular-season games on 11 of FSN’s regional sports networks.
XOS Technologies reaches a three-year deal that makes the company the league’s online provider through 2007.

2005
A one-year deal is signed with Canada’s Score Television Network to broadcast 20 regular-season games in Canada, and a two-year deal is signed with the North American Sports Network that will broadcast up to 60 games throughout Europe.
Los Angeles Avengers lineman Al Lucas dies in April from a presumed spinal cord injury sustained while trying to make a tackle. The AFL renames the Hero Award the Al Lucas Award.
Regular-season ratings drop 9 percent on NBC from the 2004 season, while attendance increases 7 percent.
The Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas hosts the first neutral-site ArenaBowl.
A four-year deal is signed with Schutt Sports, which replaces Riddell as the league’s official equipment supplier. The agreement includes the first collectible-helmet marketing plan for the league.
The New Orleans VooDoo cancels its 2006 season due to damage sustained by the New Orleans Arena during Hurricane Katrina.

2006
A pair of expansion teams, the Utah Blaze and Kansas City Brigade, debut.
The minimum player salary is $1,647 per game.
EA Sports is set to launch its first AFL video game, Arena Football 2006.

Sources: Arena Football League, SportsBusiness Journal research

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