Arena Football: The future of the long underrated sport is now

Arena football has been an underrated sport for years, but it finally has some light at the end of the tunnel.

In 2019, arena football’s future looked bleak. The Arena Football League had been on a massive decline since it’s peak in the 2000’s. It had gone through one bankruptcy already and shut down its minor league just a few years before, and now, after another prolonged decline, the AFL was shutting down once more. While other leagues existed, it was unclear how the sport would continue to remain relevant and stay afloat. To add another problem, 2020 would play host to a massive worldwide pandemic, which could do little good to the struggling sport.

So who would’ve thought we’d be here with all this success now?

The Indoor Football League’s growth

The IFL is perhaps the biggest indoor/arena football league of its kind today. Founded in 2008 by a merger of smaller leagues, the IFL has taken a new approach to the sport. However, the league hadn’t seen as much growth until very recently. After the AFL folded, the IFL was left as the top dog in the market which caused a nice jump in viewership around the league. It certainly helps to have some of the most storied franchises in arena football like the Arizona rattlers and Iowa Barnstormers. The league hadn’t gotten a TV deal until recently, when the IFL championship will hit CBS sports starting in 2023.

Without a major TV deal, the league has turned to other ways to grow. Their major way of showing the games is via Youtube, and views have jumped up dramatically, according to this chart below.

The IFL has also introduced another way to watch its games redzone style. This allows fans to watch more than one game at once with multi-view. The IFL continues to grow season after season, and it continues to prove itself as the top dog in the arena football landscape. It isn’t without some flaws however, as the league has seen some struggles. The IFL struggles to have consistent attendance from game to game, and several people are unaware that the league exists. One story goes like this:

“I watched the Kurt Warner movie and while watching they showed the Barnstormers. I walked out of the movie and many people were saying how much they missed the Barnstormers. Little did they know that the Barnstormers are still alive and kicking in the IFL today”

Nonetheless, the IFL is the top league in the arena football landscape, and it is showing no signs of bowing to any other league in the near future. In fact, it’s only going to continually grow for years and years. I can only see the arena football world with the IFL in it, as it is the most stable, growing league there is.

The rest of the arena football world

The IFL isn’t the only viable league in town, as at least 3 others can all throw their hat in the ring. The AAL, NAL, and CIF are all growing in the landscape. All of these leagues are able to help fill the void left by the AFL in 2019. Each of these leagues have minor differences from the AFL and IFL which make them interesting to watch and follow. As well, each of these are relatively small in the number of teams meaning it’s pretty easy to get into.

It is worth noting that all of these leagues suffer from similar setbacks to the IFL. Lack of popularity, unstable attendance, and financial issues are all big things preventing these leagues from getting more positive attention that the players who play in them deserve. However, each of these leagues continue to grow and receive more attention as each season passes.

Those 3 leagues aren’t even the only other arena football leagues around! The FCF is another league with some decent popularity. Their biggest strength comes with promoting their players and letting fans vote on the shots. The FCF will be a fun gimmick league for years to come. As well, several other indoor football leagues like the AFIA exist and continue to provide the market with more arena football.

The return of the arena football league

The original arena league may have left in 2019, but it is likely to be back and kicking in 2024. This league plans on becoming what it once was, but better in every way. Hopefully learning from past mistakes, this new AFL has incredible potential to be treated as a higher tier of football than arena ball ever was before. This new league looks to have stronger financial backing than any previous league before it, and it intends to make waves in the sports world.

The league plans on having 16 teams, 10 games, and all the action arena football promises. Some interesting things may appear when you look into their plans. When looking at where they plan on putting teams, there’s coast to coast action in locations than show they want teams in historic locations. The Arizona Rattlers appear on the map despite not being confirmed to leave the IFL, as well as a few other teams supposedly returning to the AFL including the Philly Soul, New Orleans Voodoo, and Minnesota Fighting Pike.

The idea of the original Arena Football League returning is very exciting for fans of the sport. The idea of original teams with more powerful marketing and possibly TV deals right off the bat makes anyone wanting arena football excited. The new AFL is making it exciting to be a fan of the sport, as we could see the AFL become even bigger than it ever was before.

Is there enough room for everyone in this future?

There’s a lot of arena/indoor football leagues out there, all with small differences and changes to set them apart. There’s no shortage of opportunity for players if they don’t make it into a top full-gridiron league to play in the arena game, but with the AFL coming along, will it be too much? It’s very possible that the smaller leagues below the IFL get buried underneath the mountain of other arena football. Instability is no stranger to these smaller leagues that are lower on the pyramid than others.

What leagues would the Arena Football League be better than from the get go if/when it launches? That almost is too hard to tell, especially right now with limited info. It’s very likely that anything below the CIF or NAL isn’t going to be better than or even equal to this revival of the AFL, but we do not know yet. While I’d hate to be negative, I don’t see the sport continuing without some hardships for smaller leagues. Mergers and teams switching leagues is something I expect to become commonplace.

Whatever comes next will be exciting for arena football

No matter what, there is a lot of excitement around the growth of arena/indoor football. TV deals, new leagues, increased attendance, the future of arena ball is trending up. There is almost certainly going to be some major growth to the sport unfolding very soon. It has already started to grow amazingly fast, so stay tuned. The future is now.

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