I was born and raised in Colorado, I might someday move out of state but I will always claim Colorado as my home. With that and my love for indoor or arena football in mind I couldn’t be more excited to see the return of arena football to Colorado.
I will never forget the first AFL game I attended in 2005. In the middle of the Colorado Crush’s existence under the ownership of John Elway, Pat Bowlen, and Stan Kroenke. At the time the Crush were just hitting their stride, and Denver was showing them lots of love nearly packing the house on a weekly basis. The atmosphere was electric, not a bored person in sight every single person was invested in the game.
This was my first experience ever watching an arena football game in person and it INSTANTLY made me a fan. There was an ambiance about being in an arena with 20,000 other screaming fans, watching an exciting football game. The Crush were everywhere, on local radio, tv, in person events etc etc. Fast forward to 2017.
From AFL to the IFL in its Infancy
Just twelve years after the Crush entered their heyday and several years after the original ownership group folded their AFL team, I would attend my last Colorado Crush game. This time the team played in the Indoor Football League, and had been rebranded to the Crush after beginning life as the Ice.
They were playing their games at the Budweiser Events Center, a much smaller and more intimate stadium with about 1/4 of the capacity. The IFL was just an infant at the time compared to what they have grown to these days. The promotion for the team was nonexistent, and most fans had no idea we still had an indoor football team. The stands were nearly empty, and just the following year the Crush name was abandoned and the ownership group created a whole new league, the Fan Controlled Football League, or FCF.
Colorado’s Hiatus from Alternative Professional Football Leagues
Since then we had an ownership group looking into launching a CIF team but nothing ever came of the posts made about the work being done to secure a team. There were even rumors that plan was being revisited in 2024. While we haven’t gotten any news on that front, the AFL or Arena Football League (version 3.5 if you ask Ryan McCarthy) has announced they will put a team back in Colorado. Specifically in Denver.
Since the 2009 shuttering of the AFL team, Denver has witnessed a population boom. After legalizing recreational marijuana, hundreds of thousands of people flocked here to reap the rewards of that law, and the beautiful mountain backdrop that Colorado provides. With them came more money, and jobs which actually buoyed Colorado’s economy during COVID. While there were benefits to this law being passed, there are downsides as well. One in particular I really think could affect the team.
Housing Market Skyrockets
During the stretch since this bill passed, the housing market has skyrocketed. Before this law Denver offered 2 bedroom condos/apartments for under $900 a month in areas where you were safe and secure. Now those same units have doubled and sometimes nearly tripled in price. Studio apartments now cost what you could once rent a two bedroom two bathroom condo for.
This will cause increased housing costs for the team or its players compared to other cities. Perhaps that’s why we were passed over for a team with both the USFL, and XFL, or why it’s been six years since we have had an alternative football team. Regardless it’s been reported that the team would be based in Denver.
Assuming they aren’t using the Denver name loosely when saying the team will be based there, we have just three, possibly four realistic Arena options.
Ball Arena (Formerly Pepsi Center)
Ball Arena played host to the Arena Football League in the past, but that was with Kroenke as a part of ownership. Kroenke also owns Ball Arena, the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Colorado Rapids holding a monopoly on Colorado sports. Could he revisit his once great AFL franchise? Possibly even tapping his former partner John Elway rumored to be entertaining minority NFL ownership roles?
As of right now there is no word as to who will own and operate the team or if the league will act as the owner much like the XFL, or USFL, a departure from the typical Arena Football model.
Given the rumored budget for these teams, I would expect that Ball Arena is the most financially viable to use as their home. With a capacity of 21,000 fans, and strong support for the Nuggets and Avalanche after winning titles in back to back seasons, there is a lot of momentum to add another team to Colorado specifically in this arena.
I have no doubt that if the Arena simply sent out an email blast to current season ticket holders for the Nuggets, Avalanche, and the Colorado Mammoth Lacrosse team, you’ll see a ground swell of support for this team right out of the gate.
A secondary option for the team could be the Denver Coliseum. The Coliseum has traditionally hosted events such as, large concerts, basketball, hockey, boxing and even Indoor Football. It is well beyond the size needed to make this work at 122,000 square feet and seats up to 10,200 people. On top of this parking is ample and there’s very few issues getting in and out of the Coliseum.
Built in the early 50’s the facility is primarily concrete and isn’t the prettiest of arenas but, cost wise could prove to be significantly cheaper to operate and lease. However they haven’t played host to any sport full time since 2018. Most recently it’s largest use was by the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment as a homeless shelter during COVID to provide enough space to social distance. It was again used in winter of 2022 due to extreme cold.
Over the years the Coliseum has hosted multiple basketball, hockey, and football teams, as well as a soccer team. One thing to note, both football teams that once called the Coliseum home only lasted one season. Although that likely was not entirely due to the venue.
Magness Arena is the home of the Denver University teams. Primarily known for the Pioneers hockey team that has been dominant at times, the facility has a max capacity of 8,000 for concerts, it likely would hold around 6,300 for football games.
Granted this facility is primarily used by the college, this could be a way for the university to fill five dates a year with a team that would draw new fans to the arena. It would also be a way for the University to bring in some money outside of it’s most obvious form of income. My biggest question is if this arena is large enough to support an AFL team given their lofty budgets. I guess it all depends how lucrative the TV Deal is. My assumption is their first choice will be Ball Arena.
Even if tickets are sold at say $10 a piece, we are talking an additional $147,000 in ticket revenue per game for sell outs in Ball Arena vs Magness, or $39,000 less per game at the Coliseum. That’s not factoring in costs of lease, or any additional revenue from merchandise, or concessions sales. This is a huge hit IF you believe you will sell out right away. I would caution any team owner, fan, or otherwise that think that’s a realistic possibility to temper their expectations.
Denver Loves it’s Sports
Denver loves sports, featuring one of the most well supported NFL teams in the league. With professional hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, and lacrosse all drawing crowds. Colorado also features the CU Buffaloes, CSU Rams, Air Force Falcons, CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves, Colorado Mesa Mavericks, and even the Western Colorado Mountaineers when it comes to college football.
So not only has this state shown support to its current teams in nearly every sport, but it’s historically shown great support to its larger alternative football teams; The Denver Gold set attendance records for the original USFL, the Denver Dynamite led the league in attendance and the Crush had its fair share of sell outs in its short run.
Have there been duds along the way? Absolutely, like the Rocky Mountain Thunder, Colorado Venom, Denver Aviators, Colorado Castle Rocks, and Colorado Wild Riders. None of these teams ever reached the popularity of the previous teams, however let’s be honest. Arena Football was never a sport that could rely on the “build it and they will come” mentality.
Power in the Promotion
It’s always been a niche of a niche fan that seeks out these leagues. Even some of the most knowledgeable and diehard outdoor alternative football fans will not give arena or indoor football that same respect. The AFL rose to its popularity because it existed alongside the other sports. It’s games were found on Fox, where fans were already looking to get other sports content. This helped grow the league, but the costs always seemed to outweigh the growth until the 2009 season that saw a mass exodus of NFL owners who had launched teams, including the Crush.
It’s no secret this league had its issues. However if you take away the promotion they once surrounded this league with you have to wonder if they grow to even a fraction of what the league became. The new AFL has its eyes set on getting back to that level eventually, but has started with a budget of $700,000 for roster building. This is truly a fraction of the salary costs the old AFL once grew to with several players being paid six figures. Players in the modern iteration can expect to make around $20,000 per season. Approximately $2,000 a week for a ten game slate.
While this is a fraction of the league of old, it is a monumental increase over what the current leagues pay on average. While there have been some wild rumors thrown out about NAL players making over $3,000 a week, it wasn’t the norm, and no where near the average. While there are still so many questions to answer as to how contracts will be structured it’s going to be interesting to see how the league determines its best course of action.
One aspect I think the AFL should consider using is some form of territory draft. Maybe it’s only 3-5 rounds, and it’s not to fill the entire roster. We have seen these tactics used in the past with leagues like the Alliance of American Football. This is aimed at giving local fans more reason to support the team, and to attend games.
It’s not foolproof, and it’s also not fair to force teams to draft an entire roster from their area because of where some teams will be located. Regardless if there are restrictions put in place by the league, or simply smart front office executives that understand they have a largely untapped talent pool in their backyard in Colorado.
To put this in perspective per ourlads.com there are just 13 players from CU, 8 players from CSU, and 2 players from Air Force also Austin Eckler attended Western Colorado University in the NFL currently.
With that in mind the Crush could in theory find a lot of players right here in Colorado. Especially if the season is planned to attract rookies right out of college.
It’s pretty difficult to tie a bow on this vomit of information given we have nothing concrete to go off of as of yet. As details begin to emerge, we will start to see an image emerge about the goals of the league right away. The arenas alone will say a lot about the way this league views itself. With that being said:
TO BE CONTINUED…
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