Three years ago, the Arena Football League shut down for an entire season, hoping to put its finances in order.
returned in 2010, but the foundation remained weak. Just last week, the
AFL was sitting on the edge of another work stoppage, one game already
forfeited by striking players and the league threatening a lockout that
would have killed hundreds of jobs.
a weekend of hard, face-to-face bargaining, there is labor peace. Team
owners and players are preparing today to sign a collective bargaining
agreement that will ban strikes and lockouts through 2017, allow for
multiyear contracts and eventually increase salaries by 131 percent.
Perhaps now, the league can grow.
Jerry Kurz, who received a five-year contract extension last month in
the midst of difficult labor negotiations, is encouraged.
when the defunct league spent itself out of business, it came back
because it is a great sport that is loved by the fans,” he said.
league’s live, televised game of the week on NFL Network will return
Friday. It was canceled last week to avoid turning the labor dispute
into a national spectacle.
league has even found a sponsor — AVITAE caffeinated water — for Arena
Bowl XXV, its championship game set for Aug. 10 in New Orleans.
But is the CBA enough to ensure long-term growth?
Sauer, a Clemson University professor of economics who specializes in
sports, claims there is a market for alternative football.
“It’s a matter of making it work,” he said.
Sauer said news of the Cleveland forfeit was “stunning,” but the league should be able to recover from it.
“It suggests to me that there is something inherently amiss there,” he said. “It’s not much of a league when a team can do that.
“It’s bad, real bad, but fans forget. Their memories aren’t very long. You just don’t want to keep doing it.”
Birth of a league
Jim Foster invented Arena Football while watching soccer.
pulled a 9x12 manila envelope from his briefcase while attending a game
at Madison Square Garden in 1981 and scribbled the outline of a
football field over the diagram of a hockey rink.
The league started play in 1987 with four teams — including the Pittsburgh Gladiators — playing a six-game schedule.
The AFL grew into a 17-team league, with franchises moving or disappearing every offseason and unfettered player movement.
year, the $400-per-game salaries frustrated players, leading to a
strike June 8 in Cleveland, forcing the home team to forfeit its game.
Baron, the interim executive president of the AFL Players Union, said a
CBA that treats players with “respect and dignity” is an important
first step toward ending the rancor.
Baron, who said he has spent about $5,000 of his own money to bankroll
the union, said the game has changed now that teams nearly have
eliminated the two-way player.
was more like basketball,” said Baron, a former indoor football lineman
who said he missed only three games in 12 seasons. “You might get ‘em
coming down, but you had to play defense coming back. It was more pure,
like the sandlot.”
Baron said indoor football is “a dangerous and violent game, with big,
strong, fast guys (running around on a field) with walls.”
said his first contract in 1997 paid him $600 per game, with a $200 win
bonus. Eventually, salaries of between $40,000 and $50,000 became
commonplace, and many players — including Baron — earned $100,000 or
such spending led to some owners backing out and franchises going out
of business or moving. The Pittsburgh Gladiators played in the Civic
Arena for the first four years of the AFL — including two championship
game appearances — before moving to Tampa, Fla., and becoming one of the
league’s sturdier franchises.
co-owner Matt Shaner, who was instrumental in pushing for a CBA, said
his team will return next season, and he intends to honor its six-year
agreement with Consol Energy Center despite a nearly 50 percent drop in
attendance from its expansion season last year. League-wide, the AFL is
on pace to draw close to the 1.3 million people who came to games last
all this is straightened out,” Power coach Derek Stingley said last
week, “hopefully, the fans can forgive.” (source Pittsburgh Tribune