The Arena Football League has officially risen from the ashes. The formal press release came out Wednesday, two weeks after a soft launch of sorts with an updated Twitter account and bare-bones website.
The AFL utilized both the Undertaker meme AND the Michael Jordan fax graphic in the roll-out, so you know they are serious. That “email if you want to own a team” page has disappeared, too, so they must have been overwhelmed with inquiries.
OK, no more jokes. It is a bit surprising — and refreshing — how detailed the AFL’s release is. They have a commissioner — sports and entertainment attorney Lee Hutton III, the first Black professional sports league commissioner — and an accomplished and diverse executive board. There are notably no splashy NFL names in the C-suite like the USFL and XFL — at least not yet. And they were quite clear about what the league will look like: An April 2024 kickoff with 16 teams playing a 10-game regular season, plus a postseason, and plans to “bring teams to markets that previously boasted AFL franchises.”
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Sixteen teams is the most fascinating bullet point. At first glance, that seems quite questionable. The AAF, USFL and all three versions of the XFL have or had eight teams, and the AFL itself only had six teams in its last season. Everything we know about spring/summer football suggests it is quite hard to keep everyone solvent and stable. Sixteen teams, 25ish-man rosters, coaching staffs, travel, et cetera … it’s a lot of bills to pay and mouths to feed.
But then again, 16 teams means 80 total regular season games. The USFL and XFL only play 40 at the moment. That is double the inventory for broadcast and streaming partners and double the inventory for sports bettors — two interest groups that will power whatever success the AFL does or does not enjoy.
If there are actually 16 teams and the AFL sticks to previous markets, it is hard to imagine how the tri-state area does not get one. There have been past AFL teams in Albany, Atlantic City, East Rutherford, Hartford, Long Island and Manhattan. None of them did particularly well, so the AFL could follow the XFL’s lead and skip over the region. But that is harder when the league is expected to be twice as large.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jameskratch.