Arena Football League team is a risk worth taking for city
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 They have been replaced by an expansion team in Washington and the start-up in Baltimore — both new teams owned by Ted Leonsis’ Monumental Sports and Entertainment.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.”