I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to American football, let alone to arena football, but I couldn’t help but take notice when the Arena Football League announced today that it was canceling its 2009 season.
As far as non-major professional sports go, I was always under the impression that the AFL was doing fairly well. It had been around for 22 years, a whole bunch of its games were broadcast nationwide regularly on major networks, and its attendance and TV ratings always seemed to be solid. In fact, the attendance figures and ratings continued increasing even through last season.
According to the AP story:
In recent months . . . corporate sponsorships have dwindled.
The AFL’s woes come as the sports world, once thought to be largely recession-proof, has felt the economic chill, including layoffs at the NFL, NBA and NASCAR.
“I’m still a little bit shocked at the conclusions that were drawn only because this league has survived for such a long time,” Blaze coach Ron James said. “I always figured the league would find a way to sustain, even through tough economic times.”
Hopefully this is just an isolated incident and not the tip of the iceberg. If it’s the latter, I shudder to think about what it could mean for some of the things I do follow more closely, like MLS, WPS, the USL, and the WNBA. Thanks to my former life spent working in collegiate athletics, I’ve known some people whose livelihoods currently depend upon those leagues’ viability, especially in some of the USL tiers.
It’s a scary thing to consider, especially when taking into account that pro sports have traditionally been viewed as, if not recession-proof, at least strongly recession-resistant. How bad are things going to get if that assumption has to be thrown out the window now?