Arena Football League tackled by recession

Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:40am EST
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By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The Arena Football League's 2009 season is the casualty of the recession.

The AFL said late Monday that it had decided to suspend its 2009 season "while the league works on developing a long-term plan to improve its economic model." It's hoped that the league will resume again in 2010.

Where that leaves the AFL's TV partners is less certain. ESPN has a long-term agreement to televise AFL games nationally under a deal that gave the sports cable network's controlling shareholder, Disney, a financial stake in the New York-based league. News Corp.-owned FSN also carries games on a regional basis for teams that are spread across the country.

"At this point, we're still assessing the situation," an ESPN spokesman said Monday.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer said the AFL's prospects for 2009 seemed dim as a source said that several teams -- including Dallas, Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland -- weren't likely to be back. The Plain Dealer said half of the 16 teams might not have returned and that ESPN wasn't interested in televising a league with only eight teams.

Acting AFL commissioner Ed Policy said team owners "recognize that, especially in light of the current unprecedented economic climate, the AFL, as a business enterprise, needs to be restructured if it is to continue."

The decision was made Sunday night in a conference call with league owners. ESPN execs were aware of the situation ahead of time and had been consulting with the league. They hope to return in 2010.

The AFL has attracted a number of well-known owners, including musician Jon Bon Jovi, who co-owns the Philadelphia Soul, and former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, co-owner of the Colorado Crush. But in its 22 years the league has failed to attract a large, lucrative following, especially on TV. NBC had a TV deal with the AFL from 2003-06 but dropped it after declining ratings. ESPN picked it up in December 2006.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter