August 13 was a huge day for the National Arena League as not only did they hold their title game, but they announced the addition of another franchise, the West Texas Warbirds of Odessa, Texas. With the addition of the Warbirds and the planned Fayetteville franchise announced a while back, the league now sits at a steady eight teams.
The expansion move does have its winners and losers though. The big winner, of course, is the Warbirds, who leave the dysfunctional Arena Football Association, for arguably the second-most reputable Arena/indoor football league in the NAL. The Warbirds also give the San Antonio Gunslingers an in-state rival as there will be three in-state rivalries in the league when the 2023 season kicks off, the aforementioned Gunslingers/Warbirds rivalry, the Jacksonville Sharks/Orlando Predators rivalry, and the Carolina Cobras/Fayetteville rivalry. Solid regional rivalries, especially in-state ones are something that IFL lacks as the league is so dispersed.
On the other hand, the big loser is the Albany Empire as their travel costs will only increase with the addition of Odessa. The Empire’s closest NAL counterpart is the Carolina Cobras who are 673 miles away in Greensboro. The league now stretches from almost 2000 miles away from Albany with the addition of Odessa. While it is nice to solidify a Texas base for the league, a smarter expansion move may have been to satisfy one of the cornerstone franchises of the league, the Empire, by giving them a travel partner.
The NAL expanding westward could make a move to the IFL more enticing for the Empire, as the IFL has the Massachusetts Pirates in Worcester and the Columbus Wild Dogs in Ohio who can serve as travel partners for the Empire to a degree. Yet, the NAL has tried creating a Northeast corridor in the past as franchises such as the Maine Mammoths and New York City Streets both folded quickly. As a result, the NAL may consider the Northeast a sunk cost.
In the end, NAL expansion is great for the league, but the league must consider Eastern options to reduce travel costs for one of its flagship franchises.