On June 24, 2017, my family and I went to see the local Arena League team, the Cleveland Gladiators. We usually go to a game every other year or so, we are the very definition of the casual Arena League fan. Before I get to the point of my story, let me give you the 3 times I actually paid close attention to the Gladiators.
In October of 2007, there was an announcement in the local media that the Las Vegas Gladiators were moving to Cleveland Ohio. In 2006, the Las Vegas Gladiators were a hot ticket in Sin City, averaging about 10,000 fans a night. The owner moved the team to the Orleans Center in Vegas for the 2007 season and averaged about 5,000 fans a night, then moved the team from Vegas to Cleveland to make more money. Think about that for a second....
During the summer of 2008, the Gladiators briefly caused a ripple in the local sports consciousness when the President of Football Operations/Minority Owner Bernie Kosar guided the team to a 9-7 record and a playoff run that landed the team one game short of the Arena Bowl. Bernie promoted the heck out of that team.
At the end of 2014, the Gladiators finished the season 17-1. I remember there was actually a buzz in the city. Well, until the Gladiators got buzzsawed in the Areana Bowl 72-32. Nearly 20,000 local fans showed up to watch the Gladiators go down 44-13 by halftime in a lethargic performance.
So back to the game on June 24. On our way to the Q Arena, I looked up the Gladiators record. It said the Gladiators were 3-7 and the Philadelphia Soul were 9-0. I told my son not to expect a victory and to just have fun. Surprisingly, I saw that there were only 5 teams left in the league. That couldn't be right, so after the game I would do some research. I watched to Gladiators fall behind 21-0 and knew that the game was over before the first quarter ended. Didn't matter, the kids were having fun. Down 42-14 at the half, I made a mental note to see if the QB was a back up, he was atrocious. Eventually the Gladiators lost 59-28 in front of, I'm guessing, around 8,000 fans.
Let's start with young Arvell Nelson. He was the QB, but since he's a local player made good, he's from Glenville High School in Cleveland, we will chalk up his performance as simply having a bad day. Let's not harp on his performance. As for the rest of the AFL, only 3 teams returned from the 2016 season, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay. Washington and Baltimore were expansion teams that filled the league out to 5.
5 teams. In the LEAGUE.
The Arena League started out in 1987 with 4 teams, Pittsburg, Chicago, Washington, and Denver. The league slowly grew to an apex in 2007 with 19 teams and an average attendance of 12,000+. Two years later, the league declared bankruptcy and there was no 2009 season. Coming out of that bankruptcy, the league had re-organized and emerged with 15 teams. What I didn't know is that the AFL re-emerged with competition.
The Indoor Football League started in 2009 with the merger of 2 other indoor football leagues, Intense Football League and United Indoor Football. Even though it's considered the second tier of indoor football, teams keep leaving the AFL for the IFL. The IFL roster now sits at 10 teams. Its primary competitor isn't the AFL, it's...Champions Indoor Football.
Champions Indoor Football is a second tier league created in 2014 out of the merger between the Champions Professional Indoor Football League (CPIFL) and Lone Star Football League (LSFL). Currently with 14 teams, the CIF is now worried about a new competitor...the National Arena League.
The National Arena League is in its inaugural season with expansion already planned for 2018. As a matter of fact, their championship game is coming up next week. July 10, 2017, the Columbus Lions are playing the Jacksonville Sharks for the NAL Championship. Wait a minute, why does the Jacksonville Sharks name sound familiar?
Because in 2016, they were in the....wait for it....Arena League. With my head spinning, wishing I hadn't wondered about why there were only 5 teams in the Arena League, I googled the following phrase: Future of the Arena League 2017 and this is what popped up. Seriously, I kid you not.
Straight from the Arena Pro Football site (read very carefully, not AFL, but APF): Football Leagues Unite to Improve Professional Arena Football: For the last six months, Arena Pro Football and the Can-Am Indoor Football League have been working together for the betterment of the arena/indoor football industry. We are proud to announce that at the conclusion of the 2017 season, the leagues will merge to form the American Arena League (AAL).
So long story short, THE ARENA LEAGUE (AFL) IS DOOMED.