(Recasts with confirmation from the league, adds owners,
analyst comments, details, background)
CHICAGO Dec 15 The Arena Football League said
on Monday it has canceled its 2009 season, but the indoor
football league, which has struggled financially for several
years, will resume play the following year.
The AFL said its board of directors voted on Sunday night
to suspend the 2009 season, subject to agreement with the
players' union, while the league works on "developing a
long-term plan to improve its economic model."
"Owners ... recognize that, especially in light of the
current unprecedented economic climate, the AFL, as a business
enterprise, needs to be restructured," the acting commissioner,
Ed Policy, said in a statement.
The AFL, founded in 1987, has 16 teams after New Orleans
folded in October. Owners had conducted multiple meetings over
the past several weeks and discussed numerous options, but
concluded canceling the 2009 season was the best option.
The U.S. recession -- which has led the National Football
League and the National Basketball Association to cut jobs and
Major League Baseball to freeze its 2009 budget -- only
exacerbated the AFL's financial situation.
"The (AFL's) problems predate the economic crisis," said
Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd, a Chicago-based sports
business consulting firm. "The league has been struggling for a
While the AFL was one of the better managed minor-league
sports in the past two decades, with the involvement of NFL
players and owners, good publicity, and decent sponsorships and
attendance, it has been looking for an outside investor for a
while, Ganis added.
The New York Times on Monday said the AFL earlier this year
contacted buyout firm Platinum Equity, which started a review
of the league to consider making an investment. A Platinum
spokesman declined to comment, other than to say the firm has
no investment in the AFL.
"These are trying economic times," said musician Jon Bon
Jovi, who is co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul team that won
the 2008 league title. "The revamping will ensure that the AFL
continues to provide value to its fans and not only survives
but thrives in the years to come."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, which reported on the vote's
outcome Monday morning, said too many teams in big-name cities
or big-city owners said they would not return in 2009,
including teams in Dallas, Philadelphia, Colorado, Georgia,
Chicago and Cleveland.
A league source also told the Plain Dealer that Walt Disney
Co's (DIS.N) ESPN sports cable channel said it would not
televise games for a league with only six to eight teams. ESPN,
which declined to comment, has a minor financial interest in
"Although it is disappointing to suspend the 2009 season,
the Arena Football League and its owners feel it is essential
to reevaluate the current business model," said John Elway, the
co-owner of the Colorado Crush and a former quarterback with
the NFL team in Denver.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Dave Zimmerman)