How Dan Gilbert (Inadvertantly) Killed the Arena League
2 years ago, Dan Gilbert announced that the Cleveland Gladiators were taking a 2 year hiatus from the Arena League. His public statement was that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Monsters (of the AHL) would continue to play at the Quicken Loans Arena during its massive, nearly $200 million renovation.
At the time, I questioned Dan Gilbert's timing for putting the Gladiators on the shelf. If Dan Gilbert was all about Arena Football, he could have easily moved the Gladiators to Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center. Only 7/10ths of a mile away, Dan Gilbert's goal from the start has been to put the Wolstein Center out of business.
Like a good businessmen, Dan Gilbert looked out for the best interest of Dan Gilbert. He could have had the Q's renovations done in under a year and moved all 3 of his teams to the Wolstein Center. But his top priority was to do a vast refurbishment while keeping his two primary sporting revenue streams intact.
Now don't get me wrong, the newly rechristened Rocket Mortgage Field House is a beautiful facility. But all work was done to preserve the interests of Dan Gilbert. While work was being done to the RMFH, Gilbert sold his Greektown Casino for a Billion Dollars. Just last month, Gilbert completed a complicated deal in which he sold the land under and around the Jack Casino in Cleveland (and Thistledown) for nearly another Billion Dollars. Dan Gilbert could have feasibly bought the whole Arena League and implemented his own business model.
Yet now, when the 2 years are up on the Gladiators' Hiatus, I wake up to this Headline:
Arena Football League is on the Cusp of Folding. Why haven't they officially folded?
On October 29, 2019, league commissioner Randall Boe confirmed reports that the league had discontinued operating teams in local markets for the 2020 season. At the time, he also stated the league had not yet ceased operations and was looking into becoming a traveling league.
What? Replacing Cleveland with Albany wasn't a financial windfall for the league?
Maybe my tone is confusing, because I'm not mad at Dan Gilbert. Earlier this year, he had a stroke and I'm rooting for him to make a full recovery. I don't have Gladiators memorabilia in my basement and I couldn't tell you the name of any of the Gladiators' past quarterbacks. All I am saying is that Gilbert could have saved the Arena League and he didn't. The league briefly went from 5 teams to 4 teams when Gilbert decided to sit on the sidelines. For two more years the AFL flopped around like a fish out of water as Gilbert mulled whether Arena League Football was a good investment or not.
His pocketbook said no. Gilbert is worth over $7 billion dollars and, let me re-iterate, he could have funded his own Arena League. Heck, he could have called it the Rocket Mortgage Football League. Vince McMahon's XFL started out with $250 million in seed money, Gilbert could have easily built an entire arena league for a third of that.
If Gilbert pulled the Cavs from the NBA, the NBA would survive.
If Gilbert pulled the Monsters from the AHL, the AHL would survive.
Gilbert pulled the Gladiators from the AFL and it died.