By Toph Kopchak
Head of Arena Football League Coverage
Anyone reading this remember that picture? If so, today will make you and myself oh so happy!!
The worst kept secret in spring sports has been announced. The Columbus Destroyers, (ok, I think they will call them that) which played in Ohio's capital city at Nationwide Arena from 2004-2008, are back!
I remember as a youngster begging my dad to get tickets for this spring football team coming to town, as people all around gave me odd looks and asked, What!? But only after they double-checked their calendar to make sure Ohio State did not have a game on the schedule. I remember seeing sharp looking ads with the likes of Buckeye greats Joey Galloway, Chris Spielman, and Earle Bruce that made the arena league and the team look so exciting. I mean it's football in Columbus, where its sacreligious to not talk about the pigskin daily, so if there's actually football in town you gotta give it a chance.
In 2009 it all stopped. The Arena Football League declared bankruptcy. The following year the league returned to action, but Columbus did not.
The Destroyers franchise started in Buffalo New York, where from 1999 to 2003 the team played its home games at HSBC Arena.
The Arena Football League is entering season # 32 ... which should be a sentence for massive bragging. But given the recent history of the AFL, it's natural to wonder if this thing will work. A league that played last season with the same number of teams as it did in its very first season in 1987 (4), originated and grew from a crude little drawing by Mr. James Foster.
On January 22 of this year, Atlantic City was announced as an expansion team becoming the fifth team working towards playing arena football this season.
Well, if this will work for team number six, it's going to work in Columbus. This is a football loving city where blood is not red, it's scarlet. A city where that same blood has been known to boil the weekend after Thanksgiving for some reason...
Even in this college football loving town, the first time around for the Destroyers in Columbus, they were an instant hit. Following a five season run in Buffalo where they once saw a crowd of 4,203, the Columbus version had an average attendance of 14,306 fans per game. Side note, The Columbus Crew had 1,859 less fans per game last season compared to the Columbus Destroyers all time average. During the Destroyers first season in the Buckeye state, the crowds were good enough for the second best attendance in a nineteen team league. The only team above them that season was the Philadelphia Soul, a team now managed in part by Ron Jaworski, a man playing a major role in keeping the AFL alive. The Columbus Destroyers never saw a crowd smaller than 10,306 in their history. There are four NBA teams this season with average attendance figures within 1,000 fans of the Columbus Destroyers' all time average attendance for home games.
Arena football magic was created in Columbus during the short time the Destroyers were there. In 2007 the team went 7-9 and still sneaked into the playoffs. Columbus won 3 road games in a row to advance to ArenaBowl XXI where they came up short against the San Jose SaberCats. In that season Matt Nagy (current Chicago Bears Head Coach) threw for over 3,500 yards and 75 touchdowns. So yeah, this city made some noise and had strong talent.
Columbus has shown that they love it when Arena Football comes to town. In the league's history and certainly now, there have been football leaders who have had made the arena game a successful venture. If this is going to work anywhere it will work now in Columbus, Ohio.
Stats from Arena Fan, ESPN, and Major League Soccer
By RJ Ciancio
Head of NAL Coverage
With Columbus, Ohio getting an Arena Football League (AFL) team for the 2019 campaign, Arena Football Talk decided to look at the history of the sport in Cowtown.
Columbus got its first taste of AFL action in 1991 when the Columbus Thunderbolts were announced as an expansion team. The team played its games in the Ohio Expo Center Coliseum. Former Detroit Drive assistant coach Dave Wingham was the head coach and general manager of the team. However, Wingham’s inexperience as his respective positions showed as the team went an abysmal zero and ten. After the season the Thunderbolts relocated to Cleveland.
For the 2004 AFL Season the Buffalo Destroyers relocated to Columbus and were lead by veteran AFL coach Earle Bruce who hadn't coached since 2001 with the Iowa Barnstormers. There was liite rust for the seasoned coach as he lead the Destroyers to a six and ten record. For the 2005 season the Destroyers brought in former National Football League player Chris Spielman as head coach. Sadly, the former linebacker wasn’t able to to camptolize on the team’s 2004 success as they ended up with a two and fourteen campaign.
For the 2006 season the Destroyers made another coaching change as they brought in longtime arena coach Doug Kay to lead the team. The he hadn’t been a head coach since his 2001 season with Carolina Cobras, Kay remind all AFL fan that old habits die hard as he took the Destroyers to an eight win and eight loss record. The 2007 season would be the peak for the team as they went seven and nine. In the Wild Card Round the Destroyers defeated the Tampa Bay Storm in a 56-55 epic. In the Divisional Round the Destroyers defeated the Dallas Desperados 66-59 in shootout. Columbus continued its success by defeating th Georgia Force in the Conference Championship 66-56. The stellar season would come to a screeching halt as the San Jose Sabercats demolished the Destroyers 55-33 in ArenaBowl XXI. Coach Kay couldn't continue his magic as Columbus dropped to a three and thirteen record for the 2008 seacon, coasting the coach his job. The Destroyers planned to have Pat Sperduto lead the team in 2009. However, due to the AFL suspending operation for the 2009 campaign the team folded.
WIth Columbus getting a new AFL team a decade after they lost the Destroyers, the new AFL team has many eager fans to bring into a passionate fanbase. With the AFL looking to have a lot o upside we can plan to hear about the new Columbus team for the foreseeable future.
As I sit here trying to figure out what to write for this week, I’ve got on a couple of short podcasts playing in the background. It is one of those professionally inspirational ones that talk about creating confidence and taking action, which is a necessary contradiction to what I really want to write this column on.
If you suck at your job, professional sports is a public enough arena that pretty much anything relevant is fair comment. Sometimes it goes further, like when a team plays a famous song whenever you go to their website and you wonder if they really got the licensing rights to be able to do that legally. Then that inability to perform a basic task becomes actual news and we have to report on it.
Reading the forums, the average indoor football fan notices stuff like this. They may prefer to swap out a ‘lol’ instead of expressing every single technical aspect of what they don’t like, but fans show that they care by talking about it. This is the first step by many to be more involved in the sport. The more people involved, the more fan friendly and successful the sport can be. This mutual growth and excellence is something fans should care about.
When I have an opinion, I have a platform to express it. I take this column and our radio show AFT Buzz then pair that with my degree in multimedia journalism. That creates a process of an entertaining narrative to point out all aspects of teams and leagues to celebrate the good and identify the bad so changes can be made.
So what about the average fan? What processes are available for them to be actionable in supporting their favorite teams and leagues?
Well if you have the time to try writing about a team or the sport in general, there are a number of indoor football-focused websites available. Personally, I’d say that Arena Football Talk is the best to get involved with. Feel free to drop us an email or Facebook message if you want to try your hand at this. Diversity in coverage though helps with overall discussion, so maybe one of our competitors are a better fit for you. These sites are done out of the love of the game and committing regular time aside for it can be difficult.
Pushing for other media coverage is big too. Ask your local newspapers, television networks and radio stations why they aren’t covering indoor football. A dedicated beat reporter may not be feasible for some of these media outlets, but at least a once-a-week recap, the box score or a feature on a player could spark interest in your team. But you have to let these editors and sports directors know that someone will pay attention to their content.
For both traditional media outlets and sites like AFT, fans need to get active on social media. Share our content, vote in our polls, comment on our posts and follow on multiple platforms. This also goes for the leagues and franchises. Doing all those things on official pages reward the franchises going all out on staff positions for information-based roles. It will also take pressure off of the major power players in the sport from having to fight fires on forums with their personal Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts and provide more official sources for Wikipedia editors.
Fans can also show their support with their dollars. Excited about a new season? Grab some merchandise and show it off. Proud to have a franchise in your hometown? Pay for the season tickets; even if you can’t make a game, someone you know will want them. Things are a little tight and you absolutely must get the car fixed or get groceries? Find the stores that advertise with your team and let them know that their sponsorship is why they got your business. You should also be doing this fairly regularly. Don’t like a decision to move venues or a coaching change? Taking away those dollars are even more telling than providing them.
Ultimately, you as the fans have a lot of pull in supporting your favorite teams on and off the field. Pushing to be more active in your fandom will help the sport reach new heights.
With the Arena Football League officially heading to Atlantic City for the 2019 season, AFT Buzz talks about the most important aspect of this new franchise: the team name. Thanks to comments on our Arena Football Talk Facebook at Twitter pages, we have a number of great suggestions to go through. Host Brice Burge also breaks down the Facebook Question of the Week about whether fans or more excited for NAL or AFL expansion.
Grey Cup Champion Wide Receiver Daron Clark is heading south of the border with Mexico City Mexicah of the International Arena Football League. But before he traveled to his new team, he spoke with AFT Buzz about the opportunity to play the indoor game to the football-frenzied fans in Mexico.
The American Arena League has expanded to pick up three new teams this season. Indianapolis Enforcers Head Coach KC Carter, one of those franchises, talks about how they made the jump to the AAL and what to expect of the team this season.
AFT Buzz is available through 920 WON: The Apple Fridays at 7 p.m., Action VR Sports on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Western Reserve Radio on Wednesdays at 6 p.m; all Eastern. Episodes are also available after air on their mixcloud channel.
The American Arena League has brought in four new franchises from the Midwest Professional Indoor Football League. The move puts the West Michigan Ironmen, Chicago Aztecs and Indianapolis Enforcers in the new Central Division for the 2019 season and the Midway Marauders will be following up in 2020.
First off, this is good news. All three markets have had heartbreaking problems with logistics. West Michigan has been one of the more well-known examples of what can happen to a franchise when you don't have a home conference and now they have a regular home in the AAL. Chicago will have two franchises to help fix the hole left by the Chicago Rush scandal. Indianapolis had a team at the peak of the AFL but was managed poorly given the area's specialty for being a special event town.
The part of the story that I think was missed is that the MPIF will take a year off and return as a development league, according to the press release sent by AAL Commissioner Tony Zefiretto and MPIF Vice President Rick Sanchez.
Why is this a big deal? Well first of all, a lot of people didn't think it would be the AAL to get a developmental league going compared to the AFL, IFL or NAL. The AAL is newer and had some major flubs in that time. But ultimately the biggest problem in the AAL is consistency among franchises. That gap between best and worst in the AAL this upcoming season may be the biggest ever for any league in the history of the sport.
A lot of that is caused by the professionalism from the top of the league. I've appreciated the professional candor by Zefiretto when speaking with him. The relocation process used by the Roughriders and Havoc have been classy, informative, locally-focused and highlights their roster of champions and their staff equally. It honestly should be something put into a case study at the local universities. High Country and Cape Fear have dealt with some turnover, but have used every available person to keep those franchises working at great levels despite the changes.
The flip side is there are franchises with terrible turf not fit for the end zones of their arenas. Not one, but two franchises misspelled their games against the defending champion Carolina 'Havco' on their official schedules. Social media, press releases and actual gameplay for the players and coaches have been wildly erratic the further you get away from the top. Some franchises also have concerns about ownership changes and the ability to go to the playoffs if they make it.
When you think of a developmental league, you automatically think of growing players and coaches to better talents and skills. Between the indoor game being less common in rural areas to the switch economically of people looking more at trade schools, union apprenticeships and military enlistment, the college game isn't the only option anymore for potential players. Don't get me wrong, there's still going to be a couple of those D3 farm boys fighting for the Monon Bell or something that you'll pick up with a franchise like Indianapolis or Midway, but the pipefitter or steelworker could be just as dangerous coming out of a regional league cause they stay playing despite not attending college.
But for a league like the AAL where consistency is an issue, developing better coaches and front office staffs will have a higher rate on return due to the stability of those roles that a single player never could. Front office skills for smaller sports do not always overlap with all of the masters programs or business courses taught at major universities. Real life experience with the good news, bad bounces and fiscally ugly is absolutely needed when trying to educate about the wonders of this sport.
I'm not advocating for every game to be a Jackie Moon-inspired corndog giveaway either, just that the institutional knowledge and successful operations of the best that the AAL has be shared with the front offices in the MPIF to grow a consistent, stable product. Talking all aspects of a developmental league will improve the AAL faster than I think anybody would expect while building depth for the individual franchises, and that would be good for the sport.
By Marcelo Metzelar, Contributing Writer
The National Gridiron League is set to begin their inaugural season this spring in twelve cities scattered across the U.S. Their slogan, “Twelve teams, One League” is their motto pounding their chest at their single-entity model.
The League is led by Joe E. McClendon III, who played his college ball for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. He is assisted by COO Larry Barlow, Board Member and former Arena Football Player Keon Perry and Executive Assistant Daria Ray.
Ray is a former minor league football owner and has been around the game for decades. She has worked with several arena/indoor football teams in the past, including the Indiana Firebirds, and Ft. Wayne Fusion. As a former owner, she has needed to wear several hats. Those skills will come in handy as she will be serving as a liaison between the team presidents and the league. “We are a small staff, so when games are nearby, I’ll be helping with game day operations and help makes things look [and be] professional. [I’ll be] that buffer for the league commissioner.”
Cities and teams were selected based on local economy, business leadership and stadium availability and willingness. NGL believes the single-entity model gives them the opportunity for long term investment into a city. According to Ray, “We want a community presence and community commitment.” Programs to fight childhood obesity, and programs that allow kids to play indoor football are just a few community service programs that league is planning to implement.
Player safety is also going to be stressed. There will be a clearly defined concussion protocol prior to training camp each team must follow. Each team has already partnered with local medical teams to ensure athletes get the care they need. Turf Nation has been entrusted with installing the turf and wall padding for all twelve teams. Turf Nation was selected because of their history creating safe, high quality surfaces and have even manufactured the turf for the 2017 and 2018 Super Bowls.
There will be some mixing of rules between traditional arena leagues and indoor leagues. “There will be no Jack-in-the-Box,” according to Ray, “We are making a few tweaks to fit our style.” One rule – the rouge rule, used in Canadian and some of the other indoor leagues will also be in effect. “We want to make special teams a factor and not just a play that gives people a chance to check their phone.” The “Rouge Rule” allows for the kickoff team to earn a point if the receiving team cannot successfully advance the ball out of the end zone. “We want fans to get as much bang for their buck,” Ray said.
NGL will begin play in late March. Each team will play 16 games, 8 home and 8 away. Games will be played Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoons. Four teams from each conference will make the playoffs with the championship game held in Biloxi, MS. A press conference will be held soon to announce broadcasting partnerships.
“I want people to know it’s going to be exciting, I’m excited about what the league stands for, and I can’t wait to see what happens in Biloxi.” Ray said. Ray also hosts a call-in talk show, The National Gridiron League Show, live on Wednesdays at 8pm Eastern time.
Starting a new league is an ambitious task. More often than not, leagues will fail. However, with twelve teams under one ownership, lease agreements in place, medical partnerships set, and community programs in the works, season ticket prices set, coaches hired, and a business leadership that is experienced, the future looks bright for the new league.
The expected announcement about the Orlando Predators is formally made, kicking off the start of this week's all-new AFT Buzz.
Ten-year indoor football veteran Kimo Naehu has found a new team in the Tuscon Sugar Skulls. The Hawaiian shares with the show about how he has physically and mentally kept pushing forward through his career, what it means to win a championship so late in a career and how he perceives the kicking game going in the future of indoor football.
Arena Football Nation's Michael Summers also joins the show. The host of Action VR Network's first indoor football show talks about changes in the offseason for the three big leagues and more.
The results of the first Facebook Question of the Week regarding who AFT Buzz fans would rather have coaching the San Diego Strike Force is in. Host Brice Burge shares who you chose and the difficulties in store for Strikers Coach Burt Grossman.
AFT Buzz is available through 920 WON: The Apple Fridays at 7 p.m., Action VR Sports on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Western Reserve Radio on Wednesdays at 6 p.m; all Eastern. Episodes are also available after air on their mixcloud channel.
As most fans of the NAL, I was excited to see the notifications start popping up again about the Orlando Predators returning to the sport. The Preds have a diehard fan base and a great history, two things that are necessary for success with all the competing leagues.
Things seem to be going just fine as well. There are official social media pages and phone numbers, even tryouts scheduled. Everything seems to be on track.
Except, you know, the team actually being announced.
No official word has been made regarding this franchise. No league statements. No local media coverage. Posts and rumors place the team in the NAL and there's a nice logo-sized hole on the front page of the league website. But the best there is on official communication is the occasional deflection from an owner or league officials' personal social media profile saying to be patient and relax.
Well for anyone who has ever had the displeasure of telling someone to calm down, doing it on Facebook isn't much better. Fans are complaining about not being able to get tickets yet and for a while a major rumor circulated about how the team would actually be called a different Arnold Schwarzenegger movie title. Most recently, somebody created a fake league page to talk about how the Predators were going back to the AFL because things were taking so long.
While reactions were mixed, it was some collegiate-level satire that might have been too good. One of the comments actually said "why not take it as fact since nothing better has come out?"
If you are working with the Predators or the NAL, that statement needs to be taken seriously. On its own the comment can be disregarded, but it cannot as an identifier of a trend.
Obviously creating an expansion franchise is difficult and I don't want to discredit the work of people working to bring back indoor football to Orlando. But there are still concerns with Amway Center hosting the team again, meaning it would be difficult to get the team any home games and impact the league schedule. The intellectual protection to get that name and logo wasn't filed until already late in the offseason. No staff of any kind have been officially announced.
Let's also circle back to the league schedule for a little bit. There are still many concerns about Lehigh Valley returning after their winless season as their search for a new owner continues. That and continued discussion about the return of the Nashville Kats are leaving fans to wonder the amount of teams in the league for 2019.
Even when the Orlando Predators do announce their franchise officially, there are many concerns about how it will be done. The team is already the worst kept secret in football and makes the social media mishaps regarding the NY Streets or last season with the Massachusetts Pirates look professional. And if the press conference is anything like the way it was in New York, a lot of people will doubt the seriousness the league will take on the issue.
If you look back at the last three paragraphs, you see a negative trend for three separate issues: the current situation in Orlando is faceless and unaccounted for, the struggles the NAL face this offseason impacting other franchises and the concerns of the NAL to establish and maintain their branding and press relations.
Ultimately, all these issues can be dealt with by having the team take the field and do well. There are a couple months before that first snap, but right now uncertainty and rumormongering leads the way for the Orlando Predators. The NAL needs to step up and wow the indoor football community and the Orlando market when they officially come back.
Western Reserve Radio out of Youngstown, Ohio is the latest outlet to carry AFT Buzz presented by Arena Football Talk. The first episode will air Wednesday, January 15 at 6 pm Eastern.
"We at Western Reserve Radio are excited to add AFT Buzz to our weekly lineup," said Jim Craven of Western Reserve Radio. "[We] look forward to very entertaining insight from around the country into the fast-paced game of arena football."
The first episode will air Wednesday, January 15 at 6 pm Eastern. Episodes will stay in that time slot every week.
A sports-centered station, Western Reserve Radio covers local teams and the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms. They also pair with SB Nation radio and the Ohio High School Athletic Association Radio network.
Western Reserve Radio joins 920 WON: The Apple and Action VR Network in carrying AFT Buzz. The show is also available as a podcast on Mixlr.
"This is another step to reaching new fans," said AFT Buzz Host Brice Burge. "We continue to make amazing progress in providing quality content about indoor football to so many new fans and partnering up with Western Reserve Radio is a win for all of us."
Fans can visit Western Reserve Radio's website by clicking HERE.
An exciting episode of AFT Buzz debuts this Friday, as Texas Revolution CEO Tommy Benizio and High Country Grizzlies Assistant Coach Mo Gore joins the show.
Major changes are coming to Texas as they have partnered with the Dallas Cowboys. While the main point is using The Star as their new venue, the deal means a number of other advantages to promote the Revs and football in the area. Benizio explains these benefits and more before the start of their season.
High Country is bouncing back after getting a new head coach for the 2019 campaign. Talking about the team is Gore, a coach retained on the staff. Gore is local to the area, works in the front office as well and shares his knowledge of High Country and the AAL with listeners.
Host Brice Burge dives into the announcement of an announcement regarding the new Atlantic City AFL franchise and talks about indoor football coaches in the NFL.
AFT Buzz is available through 920 WON: The Apple, Action VR Sports and Western Reserve Radio. Episodes are also available after air on their mixcloud channel.