Arena Foot­ball League team is a risk worth tak­ing for city

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Schmuck

There are all sorts of rea­sons why it will be dif­fi­cult for an Arena Foot­ball League fran­chise to gain trac­tion in the Baltimore area, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try.

The Royal Farms Arena can cer­tainly use an­other ten­ant and the Baltimore Block­ers or Mary­land Maulers or what­ever the team might be called are not go­ing to put a dent into the rev­enue streams of the Ravens and Ori­oles.

What an AFL team might do is bring a lit­tle more busi­ness to the shops and restau­rants in a sev­eral-block ra­dius around the arena, and pro­vide an­other mod­er­ately priced sports en­ter­tain­ment op­tion to share the build­ing with the Blast.

It also will give Baltimore’s foot­ball-crazy fans a chance to fill the gap be­tween Ravens sea­sons with a hy­brid form of the sport that is up-tempo and un­like any­thing they’re go­ing to see at M&T Bank Sta­dium.

The ques­tion is whether they’ll give it a chance.

McDaniel foot­ball coach Mike Dai­ley thinks so, and he might know a thing or two about arena foot­ball, see­ing as he coached “It’ll be some­thing dif­fer­ent,” McDaniel coach Mike Dai­ley, an Arena Foot­ball League Hall of Famer, said of the new team. two fran­chises to Arena Bowl ti­tles (in 1999 and 2005) and was in­ducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2012.

“Baltimore’s a foot­ball town,” he said Tues­day. “Peo­ple love the game of foot­ball and ev­ery­body loves the Ravens. It’ll be some­thing dif­fer­ent. When I was in the league, I was some­what aware of the Nielsen rat­ings, be­cause I was from this area, and the Nielsen rat­ings when we were on NBC were very good for the Baltimore area.

“There was talk that it would be a place that would sup­port a team, so I hope it goes well. I think the peo­ple of Baltimore will en­joy it. I think they’ll come out and have a good time with it.”

“I would say up­beat would be down­play­ing it. It is ex­actly what the doc­tor or­dered for our league.”

The league, which started play in 1987, has faced the same kinds of chal­lenges that have forced the Ma­jor Arena Soc­cer League to re­group sev­eral times. Five AFL teams ei­ther folded or joined a ri­val league af­ter last sea­son. They have been replaced by an ex­pan­sion team in Wash­ing­ton and the start-up in Baltimore — both new teams owned by Ted Leon­sis’ Mon­u­men­tal Sports and En­ter­tain­ment.

Philadel­phia Soul ma­jor­ity owner Ron Ja­worski, a for­mer NFL star, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view Tues­day that he is up­beat about the fu­ture of the league, now that it has joined forces with Leon­sis and Mon­u­men­tal.

“I would say up­beat would be down­play­ing it,” Ja­worski said. “It is ex­actly what the doc­tor or­dered for our league. … There’s great ex­cite­ment about where this league is go­ing, not where it’s been. I al­ways say, you can al­ways find a lot of his­to­ri­ans, but it’s hard to find pi­o­neers. Ted is a guy we con­sider a pi­o­neer.”

Leon­sis, who also owns the Wash­ing­ton Wizards and Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals, said Mon­day that he knows there is a risk of fail­ure but he’s will­ing to take it. He ob­vi­ously has the where­withal to do so and he has the bless­ing of Blast owner Ed Hale, who has spent many years keep­ing in­door soc­cer alive in Baltimore.

“The is­sues with in­door soc­cer and in­door foot­ball are pretty much the same,” Hale said. “Es­sen­tially, it gets down to own­er­ship, and cer­tainly Ted Leon­sis, who I’ve never met, I hear he’s a very, very up­stand­ing, good guy and knows what he’s Ron Ja­worski Blast owner Ed Hale said of Ted Leon­sis, above, who owns the AFL Baltimore and Wash­ing­ton AFL fran­chises, “I hear he’s a very, very up­stand­ing, good guy and knows what he’s do­ing.” do­ing. And he’s got the money to do it at the arena, and we’d love to meet him and work with him.”

There is no sched­ul­ing con­flict be­tween the two in­door sports. The AFL runs from April to Au­gust and the Blast sea­son runs from Novem­ber to March. Pre­sum­ably, the AFL would have the flex­i­bil­ity to steer around Ori­oles home dates.

“I think there’s a lot of down time [at the arena] dur­ing the time they’re go­ing to be play­ing,” Hale said. “Ev­ery­thing is jammed into the late fall and win­ter­time. If you’re play­ing dur­ing that pe­riod of time, you have pretty de­cent avail­able dates. I’ve seen some in­door foot­ball and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Ron Ja­worski, for­mer NFL star, ma­jor­ity owner, AFL Philadel­phia Soul

I wish them well, I re­ally do.”

The suc­cess of the league, as cur­rently con­fig­ured, will de­pend on de­vel­op­ing strong ri­val­ries based on the ge­o­graphic prox­im­ity of most of the teams. Ja­worski, how­ever, would not rule out an­other ex­pan­sion be­fore the 2017 sea­son be­gins. The league has just five teams, in­clud­ing Baltimore, af­ter five oth­ers shut down op­er­a­tions fol­low­ing last sea­son.

“I would say at this point it’s still fluid,” Ja­worski said. “We’ll de­ter­mine that in the next cou­ple weeks. There cer­tainly has been some at­tri­tion in the league, the ma­jor­ity of it by de­sign. There were some own­ers that weren’t pay­ing their bills, to put it bluntly. The new di­rec­tion of the league is to as­so­ci­ate the league with in­cred­i­ble peo­ple like Ted Leon­sis that are sports own­er­ship pro­fes­sion­als, and do this the right way.”

Still, it ul­ti­mately will come down to the prod­uct on the field, but Dai­ley — who coached four AFL teams over the course of his ca­reer — said that the fast-paced, eight-on-eight com­pe­ti­tion and the high level of avail­able tal­ent should make the league at­trac­tive to lo­cal fans.

“The United States of Amer­ica does not have a short­age of good foot­ball play­ers,” Dai­ley said. “There are only so many jobs in the NFL and there are only so many jobs in the Cana­dian Foot­ball League. There are a lot of kids out there who can play the game at a high level. I liked the ath­letes we worked with. I liked the na­ture of the game. It’s a wide-open pass­ing game that is more ap­pre­ci­ated live than on TV … and the arena teams do a good job of mak­ing it an event. I re­ally en­joyed it.”

STEVE RUARK/FOR THE BSMG

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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