Recently Iowa Barnstormers owners Jeff Lamberti and John Pettit held a Q&A session with a select group of season ticket holders (including yours truly) to discuss failures from the past season, the exit of head coach Mike Hohensee and the rumors surrounding a possible move to a different football league. And the session was so amusing that I’ve to admit, I’d have missed any of the many concerts in the USA for this event.
Lamberti first addressed the reasons for a possible move, most likely to the Indoor Football League. Travel, more local rivalries and the cost to keep a team in this league. According to Lamberti, travel expenses have gone up from $20,000 during the AF2 to around $200,000 this past season.
Cleveland is the closest road game for the Barnstormers in the AFL as opposed to the final season in the AF2 days when the Barnstormers in the same division as Milwaukee, the Quad Cities, Peoria and Green Bay. According to Lamberti “We had more fun in the AF2
Another major issue, especially for a smaller market like Des Moines, is that each year the remaining AFL teams have to cover expenses for any franchises that go broke. According to Lamberti, every team had to cover for Utah and Chicago after the 2013 season and were assured that the league wouldn’t force teams to cover such expenses again. This past season, the league lost San Antonio and Orlando(who was bought by another owner and saved) and again, each team owner had to cover their expenses.
Also according to Lamberti and Pettit, is that “no team is making money” at this time. If that’s true then the league is in trouble. It appears the league is trying to add as many large markets as possible – all the while cities like Chicago and San Antonio are failing.
The Barnstormers brought indoor football back to Des Moines with the AF2 as the ideal fit for this market. Now with the jump to the AFL and more and more added expenses the Barnstormers may be looking for a more ideal fit like the IFL, which has five teams that are within driving distance.
Here are some of the questions addressed at the meeting:
1) Will there by indoor football in Des Moines in 2015? Lamberti- “Yes, a league with good standing. Barnstormers will be back. All logos in AFL belong to franchise.”
2) Will there be football in Wells Fargo Arena in 2015? Lamberti- “Yes, team has a four year lease with a two year option.”
3) Will Mike Hohensee be back in 2015? Pettit- “Contract was not renewed.”
4) Which leagues are Barnstormers looking into? Lamberti- IFL and CPIFL.”
5) Have you approached other AFL owners about these league issues? Lamberti- “Yes a few months ago, most league owners want a team in Des Moines, but don’t see us as a tool. We pay 1/12th of the bills, same as everyone else.”
6) Fans we offered season ticket discount of 10% for every loss under winning record. Will that stand in another league? Lamberti- “40% discount regardless of league will be honored.”
7) Is the IFL a stable league? Pettit- “They never asked owners to pay others’ bills.”
8) Is there a timetable for the new head coaching hire? Lamberti- “Final decision is coming quickly. We want someone who will relocate and scout local college game for new players.”
9) Have you received an invite from the IFL? Pettit- “Being courted, but haven’t been asked.”
10) Will a lesser league hurt attendance? Lamberti- “I don’t know, up to fans.”
11) What kind of league are you looking for? Lamberti- “Something similar to AF2.”
12) Have you talked to the players? Lamberti- “Met with players recently, gauged their interest. Some work in community, would stay. Players only under contract in AFL, can leave, would enter draft or free agency.
So there you have it. The Barnstormers haven’t made a decision yet, but I fully expect this team to find a new league. The AFL is going the way of large markets while struggling to make a profit at the same time. The current model isn’t a great fit for a market like Des Moines. The IFL seems like the most logical move for now. If and when that move does happen, that leaves the AFL with four lost teams in the last two years.
Barnstormers Beat Writer for Arena Insider