Is This The End For The Arena Football League?

I used to describe the Arena Football League as like playing football in your garage, only withouth the danger of running into sharp tools. But now the league — already on ice for the 2009 season — is in danger of crashing and burning completely. What is football without giant nets to bounce your errant field goal tries back into the field of play? We might be about to find out.

The league is about $14 million in debt and may have to filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL. Mid-July would usually be playoff time in the AFL, but team owners voted to suspend the 2009 season due to financial duress, with the intention of regrouping and coming back strong in 2010. But the AFL has laid off almost its entire staff, and is showing no real signs of life.

John Lombardo of SBJ reports that the league would need $10 million to $12 million in new capital in order to return in 2010. And that’s looking more and more unlikely.

The opinions of some team owners, however, are beginning to surface, and they do not paint a pretty picture. Rock star Jon Bon Jovi, part-owner of the 2008 Arena Bowl champion Philadelphia Soul, spoke of the situation in dire terms to THE NEW YORK TIMES.

“We’re on the brink of the abyss,” Bon Jovi said. “I can tell you thousands of man hours are spent trying hard to keep those players employed and keep our fans satisfied. This is my first comment about this process and I’m already regretting giving it to you because I don’t want to talk out of school. We all love it so much that we are working. I swear to you we are working every day.”

PSJ reports that the one hope is for the league to sell its Pittsburgh expansion franchise, thus raising about $14 million to keep the league solvent. A group including ex-Steelers Hall of Famer Lynn Swann is reportedly interested. “There is a commitment to a plan to play and some owners don’t want to put up the cash,” an unnamed source told SBJ. Ironically, the Pittsburgh Gladiators were one of the four original AFL franchises in 1987.

From the COLUMBUS DISPATCH:

And Mike Ditka, part-owner of the Chicago Rush, had this to say to the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: “I would love to see the AFL come back. But if you ain’t heard anything by now saying they will, I don’t see them coming back because there were too many weak sisters. If the league does (return), it will probably have to scale itself down and make sure it has more solid ownership and much better team management.”

The end really came, in the opinion of many, when the Los Angeles Avengers folded just four months after the league announced it would not play its 2009 season, leaving the league with just 15 teams.