Since the restructuring of the Arena Football League (AFL) began in 2018 when the new CBA Agreement was signed, fans can notice an upward trend once again for the AFL. One positive change that took place was the announcement of Randall Boe taking over as the Commissioner, which means Scott Butera was out the door. Boe, a former AOL council member, has went on to make prestigious and tide-turning moves, bringing the AFL back to up the glory it’s fans once lived in. With moves such as partnering with Draft Kings, working with ESPN for streaming, working with Jaws and Leonsis more, and adding John Adams as the President of the league, the AFL really got it self back on the sports map once again. There was a point after the fall apart of most of the AFL in 2016 where fans didn’t even hear a word about the sport. Lastly, the AFL getting big markets like Albany and Washington, and joining them with Philly and several others was huge, and so was the return of the Columbus Destroyers. It’s likely we’ll see two new markets join the list of teams in 2020, as they’ll announce it at Arena Bowl 32.
Now onward to the main point of the article. The AF2 played a total of ten seasons before ceasing operations in 2009, as it’s main purpose was to create a developmental league for the Arena Football League. With the current and growing financial stability of the AFL, a return of the AF2 could work very well.
How could the AFL could tweak the past AF2 System in a return?
-The main way that could be very successful would be parent affiliations with an AFL program. For example in the National Hockey League (NHL), each team has their own developmental affiliate in a league called the American Hockey League (AHL), where they can call players up, send them down, or even assign players to rehab or developmental assignments. The AHL teams are normally located in a reasonable proximity from their parent club, so players can have an easy travel to and from if necessary. Also, the AHL teams have similar names, and some even have the same colors to associate themselves with their parent club. In the NHL teams have 15,000-20,000 seat venues, where as the AHL teams have smaller venues around 5,000-10,000 in smaller markets too. You may wonder, how does this apply to the AFL? It does in many ways, as this can be the model the AFL could use in a return of the AF2.
(There is a big difference between a hybrid affiliate and a parent affiliate. A hybrid affiliate is owned by a separate group than their affiliate, whereas a parent affiliate situation would be where an AFL team owns their AF2 team fully. The NBA G-League uses Hybrid and Parent Affiliations)
Aaron Castete’s Concept of an AF2 Return:
Lets assume an AF2 return does happen currently with the six teams in the league this season, plus the Gladiators of hiatus. Where would the AFL add AF2 teams at? It can be easy to say they’d go to smaller markets, and venues that seat around 4,000-8,000 people. Each AFL team would have their own AF2 affiliate in a location a reasonable distance away.
Columbus Destroyers affiliate:
- LOCATION: Dayton, Ohio
- VENUE: Nutter Center (9,919)
(With a one hour and 15 minute drive from Columbus, Ohio, Dayton would be a logical choice for the Columbus Destroyers to choose for their affiliate. Dayton’s population is 141,000+, which is not including their suburb areas. Previously, the Nutter Center hosted National Indoor Football League (NIFL) football from 2005-2006.)
Cleveland Gladiators affiliate:
- LOCATION: Canton, Ohio
- VENUE: Canton Memorial Civic Center (4,000)
(It’d be safe to say that choosing Canton, OH as the Gladiators affiliate would be an all around great move. With the city being the host of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it being in the state of Ohio, fans would for sure show up to support their hometown team. The venue is home to the NBA G-League’s Canton Charge, affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Canton has a population of around 73,000 and is located approximately one hour from Cleveland.)
Philadelphia Soul affiliate:
- LOCATION: Allentown, Pennsylvania
- VENUE: PPL Center (8,500)
(Ron Jaworski obviously has good relations with the City of Allentown, PA and the PPL Center. The PPL Center served as the site for the last remaining home games and two home playoff games for the AFL’s Philadelphia Soul due to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Allentown also was home the the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks from 2011-2018, but the team ceased as it couldn’t find a buyer. The venue is home to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The city has a population of over 118,000. This would be an easy affiliation decision for Jaws for sure!)
Albany Empire affiliate:
- LOCATION: Binghamton, New York
- VENUE: Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena (4,710)
(Rather than choosing Utica, which has a smaller venue, or Glen Falls, whose population is way lower, I believe Binghamton would be a way better decision for the Albany Empire affiliate. Despite the 2 hour distance between the two, the city would be way more supportive a sports team than the other options. Fans pack the seats currently in Binghamton to witness their AHL team the Binghamton Devils. Binghamton has a population of over 47,000.)
Washington Valor affiliate:
- LOCATION: Wheeling, West Virginia
- VENUE: WesBanco Arena (5,406)
(As many of you are aware, the WesBanco Arena is home to the most recent champs of the American Arena League (AAL), the West Virginia Roughriders. The Roughriders experienced a huge amount of outpouring support this season in Wheeling as fans packed the house for all of their games. The team has already developed a devout fanbase, and they’re not going anywhere. So what would happen to the West Virginia Roughriders in a situation like this? Well there are two options, one being they move up to the AF2 with Gregg Fornario still as their owner, or two being sale of the team, in this case to Washington Valor group. Despite the 4 hour drive to Washington D.C., the AF2 affiliate would be located in a city of supportive fans and close by to rivals. And let me add, the city has a population of over 28,000 and also is home to the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers.)
Baltimore Brigade affiliate:
- LOCATION: Hershey (Harrisburg), Pennsylvania
- VENUE: Giant Center (10,500)
(Out of the state but close by, the Brigade affiliate in Harrisburg, PA would pose for an interesting rivalry with near by teams. The prestigious Giant Center has been the home of the AHL’s Hershey Bears since 2002, and was the home of the Harrisburg Stampede of the Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) in 2014. Harrisburg–Carlisle, Pennsylvania metropolitan statistical area has a population of almost 550,000.)
Atlantic City Blackjacks affiliate:
- LOCATION: Trenton, New Jersey
- VENUE: CURE Insurance Arena (7,605)
(Despite failing several times with arena football in the past, surprisingly Trenton, NJ actually can work with proper marketing, community involvement, and dedicated owners. The most recent failure was the Jersey Flight who played in the AAL, with their two owners being arrested as a result associating themselves of tax fraud. Maybe 10-15 fans showed up to games at best, no one knew there was a team in town. It’s obvious proper marketing wasn’t done, and maybe things were rushed. Moving along! The Blackjacks could take a “gamble” at Trenton, which has a reasonable population of almost 85,000. Get the word out there, market the team, be involved in the community, and a team can thrive there!)