Why are people constantly trying to make Arena style Football a thing?

As of 2018 there’s 5 indoor football leagues in operation in the United States, totaling 41 teams total, not counting the two offshoots, the all-female Legends football league (with 4 teams) and the China Arena Football League (six teams but hasn’t played a game since it’s inaugural season in 2016). Looking at the history of each league it’s pretty obvious the leagues and teams are constantly on shaky ground with teams folding in each league every year and even teams jumping from one league to the other and back. It also seems like most teams are only operational for one year before folding due to lack of interest which leads to a lack of funds.

Is there a reason why we have so many indoor football leagues? Every single Wikipedia page for them mentions low attendance as a constant problem and yet new teams and leagues seem to pop up every single year. Who exactly is funding these teams and leagues and why despite their constant failures? And why don’t all these Arena Leagues just merge already?

I think the reason leagues keep popping up is because football is a ridiculously popular and lucrative sport in the US. Arena football is easier to set up than normal gridiron football because the field is smaller (so it can be held in smaller and cheaper locations) and has smaller teams (8 players per team on the field) and games are faster. So it requires less investment to start a team/league. Also, the original patent for the game expired in 2007 so for the past 10+ years anyone can start a league (as long as they’re careful to not use the actual term “Arena Football” itself which is still under trademark).

It keeps failing because people want “real” football.

What sports organization that is something other than the absolute highest level really works?* The problem is you can only ever get casual fans, you don’t get die hard fanatics with lower level leagues. But don’t get me wrong, arena football is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

  • Yes, college sports is the obvious example, but they create die hard fans thanks to a connection to a university. Minor league baseball could also be an example of something that works, but there too is a connection to the bigger organization with their farm system.

A few years ago, I did some work for one of the minor-league indoor teams – a friend of mine was their statistician, and I helped out with stats and spotting, and ran the scoreboard and clock at their home games.

I suspect that, at the minor league level, their budgets are miniscule. The teams that I saw were usually wearing hand-me-down uniforms from other teams, and the attendance at the games I worked at was very small – if you excluded the hundred or so people who were clearly friends and family of the players, I’d guess that they were drawing 200-300 fans to their games (and this was in a large market, too). And, they wound up having several of their games cancelled, because the opposing teams folded in mid-season, or didn’t have the money to travel to another city to play.

I also suspect that the people who own the teams (and who are playing on the teams, too), particularly in the small leagues, are doing it out of love for the sport, because I seriously doubt that anyone’s making any money at it.

I went to an arena football game in Cincinnati years ago. It was fun, but not something I would care to do regularly - especially if I had to pay for the tickets (mine were free).

This hasn’t been a problem exclusively with arena-style football either. Think of the USFL, XFL, and other outdoor football leagues that have come and gone.

It has just been (so far) impossible to compete with the NFL.

I think minor league baseball has been successful because it is directly connected to the MLB.

The only way a semi-pro football league could work is if it were directly connected to the NFL, like a farm league, and financially subsidized by the NFL until it got off the ground.

The NBA has this with the G League.

There are, in fact, a number of independent minor leagues, whose teams are independent from MLB. Like the affiliated minor league teams, they, too, tend to stress low-cost, family-friendly entertainment, but I suspect that teams (and leagues) tend to be more transient than the “farm team” minors.

In “The Only Rule Is That It Has To Work,” a book about a couple of sabermetricians who buy an independent team and try to make it a winner with analysis, their biggest problem as the story goes on is that once a guy proves he’s good, he leaves mid season for the real minor leagues.

Why are there so many donut shops?

People try to make money, they like the game, there is an oversupply of lower tier players available, so they think Arena Football is worth a shot. Not much else to it.

Heck, if you could ever get TV money flowing then they would all be in solid footing. Even ESPN recently showed a professional Cornhole tournament.

Hope spring eternal!

NFL Europe was connected to the NFL and it did pretty well for a while but then was shutdown by the league

That’s the fallacy- stuff like arena football, indoor soccer and minor league sports in the US at least, have as their main competition other leisure activities- on a Saturday afternoon, do you take your kids to the minor league baseball game, or do you take them to the park? Do you go out to a bar with your buddies, or do you grab an Arena football game?

That’s the market they’re competing in; major league pro sports and higher level college sports are more of a lifestyle event, in that people plan their lives around those games- book hotel rooms months in advance of important games, etc…

And so far, Arena football doesn’t seem to compete too well with the alternative entertainments it seems. Part of the problem I suspect is that in a lot of places, the arena football teams use the local basketball arena as their venue, with all the parking and concessions price shenanigans that you would expect. In other words, the ticket prices may not be super-expensive, but the associated stuff is. Which makes it a less attractive alternative to say… going to dinner and a movie.

I’d think the trick would be to make it as cheap as reasonably possible and have a lot of fan interaction / engagement.

That may well be.

For the minor-league indoor football team I worked with (the Chicago Blitz, which is still apparently around, at least technically, though they’re league-less right now), they were playing in an arena that was built for indoor soccer (and also hosts various other small-scale shows). Parking was inexpensive, and the concessions were also pretty affordable, but the venue itself was fairly unattractive – it was located in a light-industrial park, with a gravel parking lot, and it was kind of dimly-lit.

The AFL team that Chicago had for a while folded a few years ago; they played at the Allstate Arena (formerly known as the Rosemont Horizon), which also hosts college basketball and minor-league hockey. It’s definitely a step up from where the Blitz played, and even if it’s not the United Center, parking was still expensive there.

The simplest answer is probably, “It fills arenas” - something that is getting harder and harder to do (case in point: there’s no more Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus to take up 2-3 days).

The economics of sports is often bizarrely different from what you’d expect, and so the idea that there’s more going on here than just straight profits and expenses is one that might merit exploring.

In the case of arena football I think, absent further study, that a lot of it is trying to capture underserved markets. The National Indoor Football League tried to capture markets the Arena Football League was not serving. United Indoor Football broke off from the NIFL, which merged with the wonderfully named Intense Football League, which had kind of been a Texan regional league. That all died in 2008, though. The American Indoor Football League tried a regional approach on the West Coast, but for some reason some teams left to create the National Arena League.

What is for sure is that the Arena Football League fell onto hard times about ten years ago and had a cancel a whole season and I think that spawned a lot of attempts to do something else.

It looks like their financial woes coincided with the recession in 2008/2009, so I have to believe that bad economic conditions played a role; regardless, it’s clear that the league never really rebounded from that (even though they brought in several high-profile owners).

The AFL is down to four active teams now, and that just doesn’t feel sustainable.

There’s always going to be a “poor man’s” version of things. Arena football lets fans get to view football up close (instead of from 500 feet away in the nosebleed section,) pay super-cheap, get a game with a lot more fun and much less of the red-tape BS of the NFL, and also lets the players have lots of fun too without the NFL extreme competition or pressure. People like it cheap. It’s like drinking beer as opposed to a $400 bottle of wine.

As I said upthread, something like arena football can only hope to capture casual fans. The kind of fans who aren’t going to spend money on the product when their wallets aren’t as fat. A friend of mine was a head coach for a semi-pro indoor football team and they actually did pretty well attendance-wise from about 2011-2015. But in that time they had to switch leagues at least twice because other teams around them were folding. And then they folded last year. Seems like semi-pro basketball would be a lot less expensive to fund. Would probably be some fun games and yet I’m not aware of any notable leagues. Not counting NBA G League.

The ABA , WHA and AFL all were able to survive long enough to put some of their teams into the main pro leagues. That was before there was so much money in TV for pro sports. The way things are now rival leagues cannot get enough money to last.

I think this is the answer. The amount of money that can be made from advertising is vastly more than from in-person ticket sales. And the number of people watching any televised sporting event is vastly larger than those watching in-person, and I would guess the remote fan base is far larger than those who attend in-person, thanks to TV. TV is where the money is in sports.

IMHO Arena style football will never catch-on until there is at least a regular regional broadcast of games, if not national, with advertising dollars supporting the league. I would expect that is the main reason the NFL and the other major leagues are successful.

In fact, the AFL has had several national TV contracts – at various points, they’ve been on NBC, ABC, NFL Network, CBS Sports Network, and ESPN (which had a minority stake in the league for a time).

But, not too surprisingly, as they’ve struggled in recent years, their TV presence has also suffered – it looks like, for last season, they were still technically on CBS Sports Network, but only streaming (i.e., not on the cable feed).

How exactly does a season work with just four teams? Is the winner determined just by total wins?