Confident in the direction of league, various related matters.
ALBANY, NY – At press availability following media day, members of the league’s executive board sounded confident about the long-term viability and expansion of the Arena Football League.
Before handing out the year-end awards, several speeches emphasized the long-term plan that the league hopes to follow in the coming seasons as they look to gradually increase the number of franchises and shore up the existing ones.
Arena Insider spoke with League Commissioner Randall Boe and Chairman of the Executive Committee Ron Jaworski after the official presser to go into more depth on the subject.
For Boe, one of the biggest things he says he looks for when it comes to re-establishing the league’s footprint is finding markets where the league has been in before or could flourish in.
“Whenever I go someplace and they’re like ‘oh, we had an AFL team here in the 1990s, we had an AFL team here in 2007’ people love it, and they hang on to it,” Boe said.
He continued, “So we think we just need to find the right cities, we have the right business model now and we’re doing a great job of executing on it. And we’re just gonna keep expanding and doing things the right way. And that’s how we’re gonna grow the league.”
With that being said, every member of the executive committee understands the danger of expanding too fast. As a result of the rapid expansion in unsuitable markets and other factors, the league rapidly contracted down to four teams in 2018, a lesson Jaworski said the league has since learned from.
“Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Jaworski said. “It what it was. And we learn from the season of four teams, but we had to play, we couldn’t take a year off, so we had to play.
“It wasn’t the best of circumstances, but we fought through it, picked up two teams in the offseason. Expansion is on the horizon again. And we continue to expand in a very measured way.”
Jaworski also said that the league is now receiving what he referred to as “inbound calls” form people expressing interest in owning a franchise, where the previous direction was the league calling and inquiring about interest.
He also mentioned that the AFL was looking at five prospective teams which he said might join within the next year or so.
Adding to that, Boe said the league has also done its homework on the topic.
“The expansion process was interesting because we looked at 50 cities, and we looked at about 125 data points for each city,” he said. “Part of it was if there was AFL history in that city, what other professional sports are there, what’s the demographics, what’s the arena like, so a whole host of things.”
“So when we do this, we’re trying to build a national footprint,” Boe added. “And so we need to have a balance of smaller markets, bigger markets, so that’s what we’re trying to do. And get it geographically balanced as well.”
As for the game itself, the Albany Empire comes in with the league’s best record and number one overall seed. They face a Soul team that many analysts considered the next best team all year, and who have gotten hot in the last month, going 4-1 with a 2-0 playoff record in that span.
“Obviously that’s the matchup you want in any sport, is to have the two best teams play for the championship,” Boe said. “I think this is gonna be a great game tomorrow night, and it’s our big opportunity on a national stage.
“Sunday night, prime time on ESPN2, that’s the big time. And so for us to get a shot at that is really important, and I’m confident we’re gonna have a great game and we’re gonna generate a lot of interest and a lot more fans.”
Boe also said that when it came to the rules of the game, as the off-season approached, he would be working with the rest of the committee to continue to improve play.
“We are going to take a look…sit down with the coaches, the players, Ron [Jaworski] obviously, the union, and go through and say ‘okay so what’s working, are there things that aren’t working, should we change this rule, should we tighten up the timing.'”
“We’ll be looking at things [where we’ll say] would this help game flow,” Boe said. “I just think you have such an exciting, dynamic game, the more we can do to keep the game going and not have stoppages, the better.”
More immediately, the collective attention turns to tomorrow night’s arena Bowl, kicking off at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN2.
“I’m fired up about tomorrow night,” Jaworski said. We’ve got two incredibly well-coached teams, two incredibly talented teams. it’s going to be an ambiance here that’s going to be second to none.”
“The bright lights of America are going to be on Albany tomorrow night…and I think that they’re going to see that this league gives them a great product,” Jaworski added.