An icon in indoor football is returning from the graveyard, according to recent statements.
The Arena Football League (AFL) is making a return four years after it declared bankruptcy for a second time in 2019, previously filing for bankruptcy protection one decade prior. It has been five years since the last game was played in the AFL.
Officials with the league announced its return Wednesday, with an expected relaunch in the summer of 2024. The launch will mark a full year since the rights to the league were secured by an investment group called F1 Sports & Entertainment.
Not much is known about the new ownership group outside of a social media presence on Twitter. Perhaps, in the upcoming months, we will be able to discover more about the new ownership group.
A look at the new AFL leadership
What is currently known is the leadership of the league. The revived league will be led by chairman Chris Chetty, president Anthony Rossi, operations director Shan Singh, and commissioner Lee A. Hutton III.
Hutton III comes in as the league’s ninth overall commissioner, the first in the 2024 revival of the league. His appointment also marks the first Black commissioner in league history.
Working under Hutton III will be deputy commissioner Travelle Gaines, entertainment president Tuo Clark, and executive vice president Curt Feldtkeller.
“We are elated to come out of hibernation and make this announcement official,” said Rossi. “Our objective when we acquired the AFL was to bring back a storied brand that deserved to be revived and showcased again globally.”
Arena Football to incorporate components of modern business
Rossi elaborated on an initial “bigger and better” model but is opting for something more modern.
“We want to incorporate the components of a modern-day business,” Rossi adds. “– “Streaming, betting, technology, virtual reality, and immerse fan engagement mixed with good old-fashioned iron-man football.”
Rossi also noted that the relaunch began with the assembly of a respective executive and advisory team, which was selected piece by piece.
“We believe we have assembled a world-class, operational team made of C-Suite executives, expert sports trainers, football personnel, performance facilities, legal partners, professional team owners, and former athletes,” Rossi said.
There are some rumors that recently retired NFL quarterback Tom Brady could serve in some capacity in the revived league. However, we have received no confirmation as of press time.
“The Arena Football League brand has always sat at the promontory of indoor football by offering gridiron entertainment, fast action, and iron-tough athletes in conjunction with delivering a family fun fan experience,” Hutton said. “Ultimately, the professional sports brand speaks for itself and is proud to announce, ‘We are back!’”
A synopsis and history of Arena Football
Arena Football League was established in Chicago back in 1987 by Jim Foster, who served as its inaugural commissioner until 1992. Chicago remained the league’s headquarters until 2009 when it moved to Tulsa, Okla.
Tulsa served as the AFL’s headquarters during the interim era of Ed Policy and the first two years of the Jerry Kurz era. Following the 2011 season, Kurz moved the headquarters back to the Windy City, which remained as the league HQ until 2014.
In 2015, during the Scott Butera era, the league headquarters moved to Las Vegas, which would remain in place for two seasons. During the Randall Boe era, league HQ was moved to Philadelphia in 2018 and served as the corporate office until its bankruptcy filing in 2019.
The league’s headquarters for the 2024 revival will be somewhere in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.
The revival will feature 16 teams playing a ten-game season. The postseason format, according to AFL officials, is still yet to be determined.
What teams could be seen in the revived AFL?
At the time of the league’s folded operations in 2019, there were only seven teams in the league. They were the Albany Empire, the Atlantic City Blackjacks, the Baltimore Brigade, the Cleveland Gladiators, the Columbus Destroyers, the Philadelphia Soul, and the Washington Valor.
Some of these markets previously had AFL teams. However, none of the teams as of the league folding were part of the original team names from the late 1980s.
Will these teams make their comeback in 2024, or will the new owners be seeking some blasts from the past?
Some ideas of what teams they could bring back
With spring football returning, some football players may be seeking teams to play summer football, especially if they miss out on getting into the NFL.
With the second season of the USFL and this month’s return of the XFL, current players — and potentially, anyone that misses the cut for both the XFL and USFL — may want to take advantage of the offseason with another opportunity to play with the pigskin.
But where could they go in 2024?
Tampa Bay Storm
Easily considered one of the league’s OGs, the Storm initially launched in 1987 as the Pittsburgh Gladiators. In 1991, it relocated to the greater Tampa metropolitan area.
Throughout the team’s entire existence, until it shut down in 2017, the team made 24 playoff appearances. In those appearances, the Storm won five Southern Division championships, a conference championship in 2010, and won the ArenaBowl five times.
The Storm also holds the honor of being the longest-tenured team in any AFL sports market.
The new AFL would definitely benefit by bringing it back in 2024.
St. Louis Stampede
What can I say? St. Louis has room for more than one football team.
St. Louis was without a football team after the Bidwills relocated the then-St. Louis Cardinals (not to be confused with the baseball Cardinals) to Tempe, Ariz for the 1988 season.
Seven years later, in 1995, St. Louis had two: the relocation of the Los Angeles Rams by majority owner Georgia Frontiere and a new franchise in the AFL — the St. Louis Stampede.
The Stampede played two seasons in 1995 and 1996 with their home games at the then-named Kiel Center (now Enterprise Center). At the end of the 1996 season, the Stampede closed shop, although the official reason still isn’t known to this day.
The NFL’s Rams created the “Greatest Show on Turf” at what is now known as The Dome at America’s Center during the 1999 to 2001 seasons, with the charge led by coach Dick Vermeil. A well-known player from the AFL, Kurt Warner from the Iowa Barnstormers, would be leading the charge in the offensive attack.
Other offensive players having a role included running back Marshall Faulk, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, wide receiver Torry Holt, wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, and current St. Louis Battlehawks wide receiver coach Ricky Proehl.
Since then, the Rams have gone back to Los Angeles, and the Battlehawks first came into existence in the 2020 revival of the XFL. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season to five weeks but is an instrumental part of the 2023 revival.
So, if the Stampede somehow rises from the ashes after nearly 20 years, why not play ball in the house that Vermeil and Warner built — and the house that the Battlehawks helped revive in 2020, selling the most tickets in the league?
You can’t have a St. Louis team without some sort of interstate rivalry, right? Well, that’s at least the dream!
Yes, there is the classic rivalry between baseball’s Cardinals and Cubs. There’s hockey’s heated rivalry between the Blues and Blackhawks. For some time, there was even a very loose rivalry between the Rams and Bears. But in the XFL, that rivalry never came to fruition due to the Stampede ceding operations in 1996.
The Chicago Rush was established five years later in 2001. In the 13 seasons that it operated until its closure, it played nearly all of its games at the Allstate Arena in the Chicagoland suburb of Rosemont. Two of the Rush’s final home games were played a little over an hour west of Rosemont from the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford.
The Rush made ten playoff appearances, winning five Central Division championships, and won the ArenaBowl in 2006.
The Philadelphia Soul seems like an obvious choice given the early era of ownership since it was founded in 2004.
The Soul’s ownership was led by legendary rockers Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, former Philadelphia Eagles QB Ron “Jaws” Jaworski, Craig Spencer, and Leo Carlin, Jr. During that initial era, the Soul made back-to-back-to-back playoff appearances in 2006, 2007, and 2008. They would win divisional and conference championships in 2008 before winning the ArenaBowl. The team would suspend operations in 2009.
A year later, the Soul was given an invite to return to the league beginning with the 2011 season. The ownership was led by Jaworski and Spencer with two minority owners.
Under the new ownership group, the Soul made the playoffs every season from 2012 to 2019. They won divisional championships in 2012, 2013, and 2015. In addition, they won conference titles in 2012, 2013, and 2016. The Soul won their second and third respective league championships in back-to-back rallies in 2016 and 2017. Similar to the other teams, this version of the Soul dissolved its operations in 2019.
Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.