af2 (short for arenafootball2) is the name of the Arena Football League's minor league, which started play in 2000. The rules are the same as for the parent league. af2 plays its season from April to July.
Like most other minor sports leagues, the af2 exists to develop football players, and also to help players adapt to the style and pace of arena football. In addition, the af2 is similar to other minor leagues because af2 teams play in smaller cities and smaller venues. While the AFL is played in cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago, the af2 fields teams in cities such as Bossier City, Louisiana, North Little Rock, Green Bay, Huntsville, Manchester, Boise, Tri-Cities, Spokane, Louisville, Amarillo, Austin, and Tulsa. Players also earn less in the af2, with each player making $200 per game.
The foundation of the af2 was a response to launch of several small-market leagues in the mid to late 1990s, including the Professional Indoor Football League, Indoor Professional Football League, and Indoor Football League. Each of these leagues, though they would eventually fold, managed to last a few seasons each, proving that the game had traction in the smaller cities. With Jim Foster's patent on arena football, the af2 had the advantage of being the same game as was being seen on the national level with the use of the rebound nets. Working on a smaller scale, the af2 would try to capitalize on local and regional rivalries.
The Xtreme Football League was another upstart league trying to capitalize on the arena football phenomenon. Founded in Birmingham, Alabama, the XFL (which is not related to the WWE-backed outdoor league) used East Coast Hockey League ownership to keep team costs low while providing established ownership and arenas for play. The league never played a game as it and its nine teams were purchased by the af2.
The af2 finally took the field in March 2000 in a game between the Alabama Steeldogs and Tennessee Valley Vipers (the latter of which was one of the acquired XFL teams). Fifteen teams were fielded in 2000 with the rights for several more cities quickly secured. The Orlando Predators also purchased competitor Indoor Football League; several teams would be absorbed into the af2 for the 2001 season.
The first season concluded with over 868,000 people attending af2 games, averaging over 7,200 per game; several teams ended with average attendances over 10,000 fans. In addition over 9,200 fans attended ArenaCup I between the Tennessee Valley Vipers and Quad City Steamwheelers in Moline, Illinois. Deemed a success, the league returned for a second season and returned all 15 original teams as well as 13 expansion teams.
With the exception of ArenaCup V, all af2 championships have been televised either nationally or locally. The inaugural and second ArenaCups were broadcast on Spike TV, which carried AFL games on Sunday afternoons at the time. However, when the AFL announced that broadcast rights had been purchased by NBC the ArenaCup national telecast was lost. The 2002 ArenaCup was televised by the Vision Network, and ArenaCup IV was televised by KWHB, a local station in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After having no television coverage in 2004, the national telecasts returned to the airwaves with Fox Sports Net in 2005 and Comcast Sports Net in 2006, and 2007. ArenaCup 9 will also be broadcast on Comcast.
As of 2008, ArenaCup 9, as well as the season in its entirety, is broadcast online via NiFTy TV.
|East||Albany Firebirds||Times Union Center||Albany, New York|
|Mahoning Valley Thunder||Chevrolet Centre||Youngstown, Ohio|
|Manchester Wolves||Verizon Wireless Arena||Manchester, New Hampshire|
|Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers||Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza||Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania|
|Midwest||Green Bay Blizzard||Resch Center||Green Bay, Wisconsin|
|Iowa Barnstormers||Wells Fargo Arena||Des Moines, Iowa|
|Lexington Horsemen||Rupp Arena||Lexington, Kentucky|
|Louisville Fire||Freedom Hall||Louisville, Kentucky|
|Peoria Pirates||Peoria Civic Center||Peoria, Illinois|
|Quad City Steamwheelers||i wireless Center||Moline, Illinois|
|South||Florida Firecats||Germain Arena||Estero, Florida|
|South Georgia Wildcats||James H. Gray Civic Center||Albany, Georgia|
|Tennessee Valley Vipers||Von Braun Center||Huntsville, Alabama|
|Central||Amarillo Dusters||Amarillo Civic Center||Amarillo, Texas|
|Arkansas Twisters||ALLTEL Arena||North Little Rock, Arkansas|
|Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz||Ford Center||Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|Tulsa Talons||BOK Center||Tulsa, Oklahoma|
|Southwest||Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings||CenturyTel Center||Bossier City, Louisiana|
|Corpus Christi Sharks||American Bank Center||Corpus Christi, Texas|
|Rio Grande Valley Dorados||Dodge Arena||Hidalgo, Texas|
|Texas Copperheads||Richard E. Berry Educational Support Center||Cypress, Texas|
|West||Boise Burn||Qwest Arena||Boise, Idaho|
|Central Valley Coyotes||Selland Arena||Fresno, California|
|Spokane Shock||Spokane Arena||Spokane, Washington|
|Stockton Lightning||Stockton Arena||Stockton, California|
|Tri-Cities Fever||Toyota Center||Kennewick, Washington|
The drop in teams between 2002 and 2006 can be partially attributed to the league expanding too rapidly in its first 3 seasons. Many teams were financially unstable and folded. This can be due to higher expenses compared to similar leagues. Franchise fees in the league range from $600,000 to $1 million. Historically, massive expansions have had little success. For instance, the National Indoor Football League, a rival indoor league, has seen large amounts of expansion teams since they began in 2001 but many struggle financially.
Nine new expansion teams were approved for 2007 in the af2: the Boise Burn, the Cincinnati Jungle Kats, the Fort Wayne Fusion, the Laredo Lobos, the Lubbock Renegades, the Mahoning Valley Thunder, the Texas Copperheads, the Tri-Cities Fever, and the Corpus Christi Sharks. The Texas, Laredo, and Tri-Cities teams moved to the af2 from other indoor football leagues. For the 2007 season the league fielded 30 teams. After the 2007 season, three of those teams folded, the Fort Wayne Fusion, the Cincinnati Jungle Kats, and the Laredo Lobos. Also the Everett Hawks, Alabama Steeldogs, and the Bakersfield Blitz ceased operations. For 2008 the league fielded one less team at 29. Two teams the Iowa Barnstormers and the Peoria Pirates were reactivated, and the league admitted three new teams that were transferring from other leagues. The Lexington Horsemen came from the UIF, the Daytona Beach ThunderBirds from the WIFL and the Austin Wranglers moved down from the AFL.