The Arena Football League (AFL) was founded in 1987 as an American football indoor league. The AFL's attendance has increased dramatically over the last few years, rising to an average of 12,415 people per game in 2007. The AFL also maintains a minor league called af2.
Eventual Arena Football League founder Jim Foster
, a former National Football League
and United States Football League
executive, originally had a contract in 1983 to play an exhibition on the NBC television network
. He abandoned the plan, though, when the USFL
was formed and did not return to the new sport until 1986. He set up a "playtest
" in Rockford, Illinois
at the (Rockford MetroCentre). He set up two teams, the "Miami Vice" and the "Chicago Politicians", made up of semi-pro and former college football
players to play against each other to see how his idea would work. The Vice defeated the Politicians 30-18.
The AFL begins
The AFL was founded in 1987 as an American football indoor league
. The league's inaugural season featured four teams: the Chicago Bruisers
, Denver Dynamite
, Pittsburgh Gladiators
, and Washington Commandos
. The teams played a six-game season, culminating in Arena Bowl I, where Denver defeated Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh
In 1990, Foster was awarded a patent for arena football and the equipment unique to it—the only known instance of a game being patented anywhere in the world. This means that other indoor football leagues must play under significantly different rules; the patent, however, expired on September 30, 2007, opening the door to other indoor football leagues using such rules under Foster's old patent.
From its inception, the AFL operated in a state of semi-obscurity; many Americans had heard the term "arena football" but knew little to nothing about the league itself.
From the 1987 season until the late 1990s, the most exposure the league would receive was on ESPN, which would air tape-delayed games, often well after midnight. The league would receive its first taste of wide exposure in 1998, when Arena Bowl XII was televised nationally as part of ABC's Wide World of Sports.
One of the league's early success stories was the Detroit Drive. A primary team for some of the AFL's most highly regarded players, including George LaFrance, Gary and Alvin Rettig, as well as being a second career chance for quarterback Art Schlichter, the Drive regularly played before sold out crowds at Joe Louis Arena, and went to the ArenaBowl every year of their existence (1988-1993). However, the AFL's first dynasty came to an end when their owner, Mike Ilitch (who also owned Little Caesar's Pizza) bought the Detroit Tigers, and sold the team.
Although the Drive left the league, the AFL still has a number of teams today which it considers "dynasties", including the Tampa Bay Storm (the only team that has existed in some form for all twenty seasons), their arch-rival the Orlando Predators, the San Jose SaberCats of the present decade, and their rivals the Arizona Rattlers.
In 1993 the league staged its first, and only to date, All-Star game in Des Moines, Iowa, the future home of the Iowa Barnstormers, as a fundraiser for flood victims in the area. The National Conference defeated the American Conference 64-40 in front of a crowd of 7,189.
While the aforementioned teams have enjoyed success, many teams in the history of the league have enjoyed little to no success. There are also a number of franchises which existed in the form of a number of unrelated teams under numerous management groups until they folded (an example is the New York CityHawks whose owners transferred the team from New York to Hartford to become the New England Sea Wolves after two seasons, then after another two seasons were sold and became the Toronto Phantoms, who lasted another two seasons until folding). There are a number of reasons why these teams failed, including lack of financial support from owners, lack of media exposure, to the city's plain disinterest in the team. Today, this isn't seen as much of a problem, as team owners typically own other sports franchises as well, receive adequate media coverage from their home cities, and most teams have a sizeable fan base.
The new millennium
The year 2000 brought a heightened interest in the AFL. Then-St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner
, who was MVP
of Super Bowl XXXIV
, was first noticed because he played quarterback for the AFL's Iowa Barnstormers
. While many sports commentators and fans continued to ridicule the league, Warner's story gave the league positive exposure, and it brought the league a new television deal with TNN
, who, unlike ESPN, would televise regular season games live. While it was not financially lucrative, it helped set the stage for what the league would become in the new millennium. Also, the year also brought a spin-off league, the af2
, intended to be a developmental league, comparable to the National Football League
's NFL Europe
. There was a lot of expansion in the 2000s. Expansion teams include the Austin Wranglers
, Carolina Cobras
, Los Angeles Avengers
, Chicago Rush
, Detroit Fury
, Dallas Desperados
, Colorado Crush
, New Orleans Voodoo
, Philadelphia Soul
, Nashville Kats
, Kansas City Brigade
, and Utah Blaze
. The Wranglers, Cobras, Fury, and Kats no longer compete in the AFL, however.
There were also several rule changes. In 2003, the season expanded to 16 games. In 2005, players were no longer allowed to run out of bounds. The only way for a player to go out of bounds is if a player is tackled into the side boards. 2005 also marked the first year the ArenaBowl was played at a neutral site. In 2007, free substitution was allowed. And in 2008, the jack linebacker was allowed to go sideboard to sideboard.
- The Field: An indoor padded surface wide and long with eight-yard (7 m) endzones. Goal posts are nine-feet wide with a crossbar height of 15 feet (NFL goalposts are wide with the crossbar at ). The goalside rebound nets are wide by high. The bottom of the nets are eight feet above the ground. Sideline barriers are high and made of high density foam rubber.
- The Equipment: The official football is the same size and weight as the National Football League ball. Each ball is manufactured by Spalding Sporting Goods.
- The Players and Formations: Eight players on the field; 20-man active roster; four-man inactive roster.
- Substitution: Free substitution is allowed, but some players play both ways either by choice or to step in because of injury.
- Formation: Four (4) offensive players must line up on the line of scrimmage. Three (3) defensive players must be down linemen (in a three or four-point stance). Only the "Mac Linebacker" may blitz on either side of the center. Alignment is two (2) or more yards off the line of scrimmage. No stunting or twisting. Offensive motion in the backfield: One receiver may go in a forward motion before the snap.
- Timing: Four 15 minute quarters with a 15-minute halftime. The clock stops for out-of-bounds plays or incomplete passes only in the last minute of each half or when the referee deems it necessary for penalties, injuries or timeouts. Each team is allowed three (3) time-outs per half. In the last minute of the game, the clock stops if the team with the lead has the ball and fails to advance the ball past the line of scrimmage; this discourages teams with the lead from "taking a knee" (i.e., having the quarterback kneel shortly after taking the snap from center) near the end of a game.
- Movement of the Ball and Scoring: Four (4) downs are allowed to advance the ball ten (10) yards for a first down, or to score. Six (6) points for a touchdown. One (1) point for a conversion by place kick after a touchdown, two (2) points for a conversion by drop kick and two (2) points for successful run or pass after a touchdown. Three (3) points for a field goal by placement or four (4) points for a field goal by drop kick. Two (2) points for a safety.
- The Kicking: Kickoffs are from the goal line. Kickers may use a one-inch tee. Punting is illegal. On fourth down, a team may go for a first down, touchdown or field goal. The receiving team may field any kickoff or missed field goal that rebounds off the net. Any kickoff untouched which is out of bounds or hitting an overhead structure (i.e. scoreboard) will be placed at the 20-yard line or the place where it went out of bounds, whichever is more advantageous to the receiving team. If a kickoff goes beyond the end zone and stays in bounds (such as kicking it into the field goal "slack net" or if the ball goes under the net), the ball will come out to the 5-yard line. The same is true if a missed field goal attempt goes beyond the end zone and under the net. If the receiving player chooses not to take the ball out of the endzone (takes a knee) or is tackled in the endzone, the ball is placed on the 2 1/2-yard line.
- Passing: Passing rules in Arena Football are the same as outdoor NCAA football in which receivers must have one foot inbounds. A unique exception involves the rebound nets. A forward pass that rebounds off of the endzone net is a live ball and is in play until it touches the playing surface.
- Overtime Rules: Overtime periods are 15 minutes during the regular season and the playoffs. Each team gets one possession to score. If, after each team has had one possession and one team is ahead, that team wins. If the teams are tied after each has had a possession, the next team to score wins.
Growth of the league
Average attendance for AFL games were around 10,000-11,000 per game in the 1990s, though during the recession connected to the dot-com bubble and the September 11, 2001 attacks
average attendance dropped below 10,000 for several years. For the past four seasons, average attendance has been above 12,000, with 12,392 in 2007. 11 of the current 17 teams had average attendance figures over 13,000 in 2007.
Beginning with the 2003 season, the AFL made a deal with NBC
to televise league games, which was renewed for another two years in 2005. In conjunction with this, the league moved the beginning of the season from May to February (the week after the NFL
's Super Bowl
) and scheduled most of its games on Sunday instead of Friday or Saturday as it had in the past. In 2006, because of the XX Winter Olympic Games
, the Stanley Cup
playoffs and the Daytona 500
, NBC scaled back from weekly coverage to scattered coverage during the regular season, but committed to a full playoff schedule ending with the 20th ArenaBowl
. NBC and the Arena Football League officially severed ties on June 30
, having failed to reach a new broadcast deal. Las Vegas
owner Jim Ferraro stated during a radio interview that the reason why a deal failed is because ESPN
refused to show highlights or even mention a product being broadcast on NBC.
For the 2006 season only, the AFL added a national cable deal with OLN (now Versus) for eleven regular-season games and one playoff game.
On December 19, 2006, ESPN announced the purchase of a minority stake in the AFL. This deal includes television rights for the ESPN family of networks. ESPN will televise a minimum of 17 regular season games, most on Monday Nights, and 9 playoff games, including ArenaBowl XXI on ABC. The deal resulted in added exposure on ESPN's SportsCenter.
The AFL also has a regional-cable deal with FSN, where FSN regional affiliates in AFL markets carry local team games.
Expanding the season
The practice of playing one or two preseason exhibition
games by each team before the start of the regular season was discontinued when the NBC contract was initiated, and the regular season was extended from 14 games, the length that it had been since 1996, to 16.
The first video game
based on the AFL was Arena Football
for the C-64
released in 1988. On May 18
, Kurt Warner's Arena Football Unleashed
was released by Midway Games
for the Playstation
game console. On February 7
, 2006 EA Sports
released Arena Football
for the PlayStation 2
. EA Sports released another AFL video game, titled Arena Football: Road to Glory
, on February 21
, for the PlayStation 2.
In 2001, Jeff Foley published War on the Floor: An Average Guy Plays in the Arena Football League and Lives to Write About It
. The book details a journalist's two preseasons (1999 and 2000) as an offensive specialist/writer with the now-defunct Albany Firebirds
. The 5-foot-6 (170 cm), self-described "unathletic writer" played in three preseason games and had one catch for -2 yards.
In perhaps one of the most unusual sponsorship
deals ever assembled by an American sports league, the AFL renamed all four of its divisions after Mitsubishi Motors
as of the 2008 season.
||Quicken Loans Arena
||Cleveland, Ohio |
||Columbus, Ohio |
||American Airlines Center
||Dallas, Texas |
|New York Dragons
||Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
||Uniondale, New York (Long Island) |
||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania |
||The Arena at Gwinnett Center
||Duluth, Georgia (Atlanta area) |
|New Orleans VooDoo
||New Orleans Arena
||New Orleans, Louisiana |
||Orlando, Florida |
|Tampa Bay Storm
||St. Pete Times Forum
||Tampa, Florida |
||Rosemont, Illinois (Chicago area) |
||Denver, Colorado |
|Grand Rapids Rampage
||Van Andel Arena
||Grand Rapids, Michigan |
|Kansas City Brigade
||Kansas City, Missouri |
||US Airways Center
||Phoenix, Arizona |
|Los Angeles Avengers
||Los Angeles, California |
|San Jose SaberCats
||San Jose, California |
||Salt Lake City, Utah |
The Arena Football League has expanded and contracted many times throughout its history. Every year in the AFL there has been at least one team who did not play the previous season with the same name. The AFL has expanded to 19 franchises for the 2006 season. The league conducted an expansion draft
in September 2005 in order to stock the Utah Blaze
. Because of Hurricane Katrina
, the New Orleans VooDoo
announced that they would suspend operations for 2006. Players under contract to the VooDoo were transferred to the expansion Kansas City Brigade
franchise. The 2007 season saw the return of Arena Football to New Orleans
. The Cleveland Gladiators
relocated from Las Vegas
From the league's inception through ArenaBowl XVIII, the championship game was played at the home highest-seeded remaining team. The AFL then switched to a neutral-site championship, with ArenaBowls XIX and XX in Las Vegas. New Orleans Arena
, home of the New Orleans VooDoo, served as the site of ArenaBowl XXI
on July 29, 2007. This was the first professional sports championship to be staged in the city since Hurricane Katrina
struck in August 2005. The San Jose SaberCats
earned their third championship in six years by defeating the Columbus Destroyers 55-33
. Arena Bowl XXI in New Orleans was deemed a success, and the city was chosen to host Arena Bowl XXII, in which the Philadelphia Soul
won the defending champs San Jose Sabercats
Commissioners of Arena Football
- Ed Policy (interim) - 2008-present
- C. David Baker - 1996-2008
- Jim Drucker - 1994-1996
- Joe O'Hara - 1992-1994
- Jim Foster - 1987-1992
League expansion plans
During a conference call prior to ArenaBowl XX
, Commissioner Baker stated publicly the names of several cities that are under consideration for future league expansion. More recently, Baker has reiterated these expansion plans and also stated that the league is considering expansion into international markets based on twenty-one exhibition games. The expansion rights to two other markets have been sold to potential ownership groups, both of which are National Football League
team owners in those respective markets. Teams have not yet been placed in those cities.
Most recently the AFL have released a press release stating that they have partnerd with German marketing group 2Plus to investigate the possibility of hosting AFL teams in Germany. Last week (middle August 2008) an AFL delegation including Jerry Kurz visited Germany to speak with 2Plus in person and to visit various possible host cities. During that week a delegation from Amsterdam traveled to Germany to speak to the AFL about Amsterdam hosting a team.
At the moment the AFL have their sight set on three possible host cities.
Dusseldorf or Hamburg will host an exhibition game later this year. Other cities in Europe have also shown interest in housing an AFL team.