By Marcelo Metzelar, Contributing Writer
Trivia Question: How many indoor/arena leagues have folded since 1987? I don’t know either, but the point is, only two leagues have survived ten years or more: the Arena Football League (AFL), and the Indoor Football League (IFL). These two leagues have done what many indoor leagues, and most outdoor leagues, have not been able to do. So, the question needs to be asked, what do these leagues do that others do not?
- Ownership Commitment: Arena Football is owned, in majority, by two main groups. Ownership needs to believe in the product. Monumental Sports and Entertainment owns two teams in the AFL and Ron Jaworski owns another three. That sort of commitment goes a long way to maintain survival. The IFL has five teams who have been around since or before 2013. Those owners are in it for the long haul.
- Product Awareness: After 30 years, the name Arena Football has become synonymous with any football that is played on a hockey rink sized field. Even then, holding press conferences to announce logo changes, television contracts, and having their own network put the word out there that they are a legitimate league. The Indoor Football League broadcasts all their games via Youtube, but some teams get broadcast locally. Fox Sports AZ broadcast the 2019 United Bowl, so that all Arizonians can appreciate championship caliber football. A constant flow of sponsors and a full arena (Arizona led the league in attendance with over 13,000 per game) are proof that people know who the Rattlers are. People within their region know these leagues exist.
- Slow and Steady Growth: As the fault with many leagues, the temptation to grow fast is disastrous. Growth that is too quick leads to selecting ownership groups that are not prepared for the long haul, or are ill-funded. This was part of the United States Football League’s demise, and the demise of many minor indoor leagues. The American Football League opened with eight teams and ended with ten teams before they merged with the National Football League. There was no rush to out grow the NFL. Slow and steady growth is the key to creating a league that will stand the test of time.
- Website Maintenance: Maintaining a proper website is a crucial step to creating a legitimate league. Having the latest league news on the site, updated stats, accurate rosters, links to social media and team sites, videos, game notes, and individual player profiles are all things that true leagues have. Check any of the Big Five leagues, or European soccer leagues and one can find all sorts of detailed information. The same goes for social media. Fans love content. Update social media sites with current information frequently not only will people be in the know about the league, but they will know where to find out more.
- Keep Proper Stats: This can be looked at in one of two ways. If the idea is to be stepping stone for the league’s athletes to move up a level, then stats help sell the player. If the idea is to keep the athletes to build the league, then stats allow a complete history of the greatest receiver, or whichever other position the league wants to reward. Transparency of stats also lets the fan base follow along. Nothing gets people talking about the league more than a little argument on stats. Player A may have more touchdowns, but player B may have more yards and receptions. Let the discussion (and the free marketing) begin!
- Professional Broadcasting: When broadcasting a game, it is important to have people who broadcast for a living. Even within broadcasting there are people who know sports, and those that do not. Tom Brokaw would probably not have been a good play by play man as respected a journalist as he was. However, Al Michaels has done multiple sports for ABC. The search does not need to include top notch network talent. Talent can be found from local radio stations and perhaps even communications majors at local universities. Point is, professional broadcasters give legitimacy to a broadcast and to the league.
- Professional Coaching: When a team holds a press conference, does the coach represent the team well? Does the team look organized during practice? Is there a plan of attack on offense and defense? The coaches that lead a team are going to be the face of the program. Rarely, do I hear fans say, “Well, the team looks good, but that Director of Media needs to go,” or “Did you see what that Game Day Operations guy said at the press conference?” Even though, those positions need to be professional as well, having a professional coach is just as important.
- Realize the Product is Minor League: I never understood why the same carbonated beverage that is $1.50 at the register at my local grocery store is miraculously $5.00 at the airport, ballpark, and theme park. Concessions is one of the professional league’s great money makers. However, paying $11.00 for unlimited refills on my favorite soft drink at Gillette Stadium is not the same for paying the same price for the same item at Generic Arena in Somewhere, USA. Make the price a bit more reasonable so that mom and dad can take the kids. The idea is to build a fan base. The big leagues have spent decades creating a product that is a part of Americana. A new league must do the same.
These are just a few suggestions as to how to start a league. One can take it or leave it. I have been following arena football since its inception, and I have a passion for football history. I wish every owner success, and maybe one day, I’ll write the story about their league history.