It appears that the crazy version called the Arena Football League (AFL) has folded. The AFL, which was a condensed, indoor version of football has been lighting up the scoreboard with pinball football since 1987.
If the AFL were a cat, it is on it’s 9 1/2 life. While the league office suggested that the league might continue in some form as a “travel/touring” league, most football experts believe that this is the final blow. The news came as a surprise to many players and fans of the AFL.
In a statement released Tuesday, the league office said it is still searching for ways to continue operations in the future, but also acknowledged it is laying off employees.
“These closures have resulted in the elimination of various staff positions and is a direct consequence of the current financial constraints facing the AFL, which include extensive legacy liabilities and a recent multimillion dollar litigation filed against the league by an insurance carrier that provided coverage for the AFL between 2009 and 2012,” the league said in a statement. “Those liabilities, which are all related to prior league operations, severely constrain the league’s ability to expand and operate.”
The litigation that spurred the move was filed against Arena Football One by National Union Fire Insurance Company two weeks ago in New York Supreme Court in an effort to compel arbitration, alleging the league did not pay insurance premiums when National Union was the insurer from 2009 to 2012.
The suit alleges Arena Football One owes National Union over $2.4 million.
If the petition of arbitration is declined by a court, National Union has requested it be viewed as a complaint for breach of contract by the court, potentially leading to a lawsuit. The next appearance date for the petition is Dec. 18.
The AFL launched in 1987 with four teams and eventually as many as 19 teams in 2001. The league even created their own second-tier league called AF2 which played from 2000-2009. I attended many of the Macon Knights’ AF2 franchise. The game was exciting to watch and high scoring. Arena football was played on artificial turf over a hockey-rink sized field with “rebound nets” on each end where the ball was still in play when it bounced off of them. The league also played in the winter/spring so as not to compete with college football or the National Football League (NFL). The NFL never totally used the AFL as a developmental league which would have probably saved them.
The AFL had just four teams in 2018 but expanded to six before the 2019 season. Those six teams are based out of Albany, Atlantic City, Baltimore, Columbus, Philadelphia and Washington. The league went bankrupt in 2009 and even had to cancel the season before ultimately being brought back.
It doesn’t appear that there is much hope that the AFL will rebound to play again. While there are still other indoor leagues, the AFL was always the “major league” among them. It is doubtful that another league could rise to a major league caliber indoor league. Even the other indoor leagues are in a state of flux with mergers and teams jumping to other leagues. The only way a league could get a good footing on the indoor game would be with the backing of NFL financing and that is not likely to happen.