“We are exploring every possible avenue to continue bringing AFL football to our fans, including further evolutions to the current business model, and are engaging with prospective investors and supporters who are interested in seeing the League continue to grow.”
Among the AFL’s six teams are the Washington Valor and the Baltimore Brigade, both of which are owned by Ted Leonsis’s Monumental Sports, which also owns the Washington Capitals, Mystics and Wizards. The Valor plays home games at Capital One Arena in the District. Leonsis wrote Wednesday that Monumental was “proud of the work that we did to generate passion and excitement for the AFL amongst our employees, our fans, and for our local AFL teams. We did something brave, innovative and fun. I want to thank Commissioner Randall Boe, the league, teams and players for their dedication and commitment.”
He said he was “disappointed” about the decision and added:
“We continue to believe in the AFL product — its fast-paced, high-scoring style of football is perfect for a future where younger viewers digest content via [over the top] channels and where sports betting becomes an important component to a league’s business model. The league’s business plan called for steady local market expansion in order to develop scale and a national footprint. Unfortunately, the league has struggled to secure enough additional financial investment to execute that plan."
Last week, the league was sued by a former insurer that provided workers’ compensation coverage for the AFL from 2009 to 2012, alleging that the league owes the insurer millions. That claim and other legacy liabilities that relate to previous league operations — all from long before MSE invested — created significant financial constraints for the league. One consequence is the need for the league to shut down its local business operation units, including the business teams supporting the Valor and Brigade, immediately while it continues to work to identify solutions to address those financial constraints.
The league cited those constraints imposed upon it from previous operations of the AFL, as well as the multimillion-dollar lawsuit from the insurance company. That lawsuit, filed this month in New York State Supreme Court, claims that the league failed to, among other things, pay all of its premiums and carry out the terms of a previous financial settlement with the company.
“The financial challenges we are now dealing with do not, however, reflect the determined efforts of our current shareholders to maintain the viability of the AFL,” Boe said. “Our shareholders have made significant investments to restructure and relaunch the AFL and make it successful.
“Additionally, they have continued to work actively with the League office to grow the sport in their respective markets. Every touchdown celebrated and every ArenaBowl trophy ever hoisted can be credited to their efforts and to our incredibly loyal and growing fan base.”
The other four teams in the AFL include the Albany Empire, which won ArenaBowl XXXII in August; the Philadelphia Soul; the Atlantic City Blackjacks; and the Columbus Destroyers. The Atlantic City and Columbus teams were added this year to the league, which was founded in 1987, featured almost 20 teams at one point and has undergone several incarnations. This year’s 12-game regular season schedule ran from April through July.
“We have been evaluating that as a potential model to go forward and keep the league alive,” the commissioner said. “I hesitate to say that we have a sense that that is likely to be successful. It’s the thing that we’re looking at. We really don’t see an alternative to that.”
Boe, whose ties to Leonsis date from their time together at AOL, was an executive vice president and general counsel for Monumental before becoming the AFL’s commissioner last year. Leonsis told The Washington Post last year that if his company didn’t “step in” with a major investment, including the 2017 debuts of the Valor and the Brigade, the league “probably would have died.”
The Valor defeated the Brigade in 2018 for the ArenaBowl title, staged at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.
“The AFL is not folding,” Ron Jaworski, a former NFL quarterback who is a majority owner of the Soul, told the Press of Atlantic City via text message Tuesday night. “We are ceasing local operations and all teams will be operated through the AFL office as we look to find new investors.”
The Times Union reported that while all AFL players have been free agents since the season ended, per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, team employees will receive two weeks’ pay.
“All of us are going to keep playing until time runs out. No one’s quitting yet,” Boe told the newspaper. “I can’t tell you that I think the odds are good, but no one is quitting.
“You play until the final gun goes off, and that’s what we’re going to do. If we can come up with a way to keep the league going that makes sense for everyone, then we would do that.”