Washington’s fledgling indoor football team has yet to play a single game, and after the Arena League’s week of massive upheaval, it’s not clear when they’ll ultimately take the field.
The league shrank from nine to just four franchises in a matter of days, after three teams ceased operations and two others decided to bolt for a competing indoor football league. That leaves four teams still standing, including the Washington Valor, the Ted Leonsis-owned outfit that officially joined the league as an expansion franchise in March.
The Arena League’s schedule typically runs from April to August each year. The league has not released a schedule for the 2017 season and, in the wake of this week’s upheaval, has not publicly addressed any plans for next season.
Team owners held a conference call Thursday night to discuss the recent tumult, and the league issued a statement Friday morning saying it “is focused on solidifying its foundation for the long term and is in active conversations with strong, experienced ownership groups in markets where there is already a pro sports signature in place.”
“The addition of the Washington Valor this coming season provides a solid example of where we are headed,” the statement continued. “Ultimately, we continue to be focused on positioning and growing the league over the long term to deliver the great game, compelling broadcasts and arena experience our fans have come to expect.”
A spokesman for the Valor did not immediately return a request to comment. Earlier this week, Leonsis’s Monumental Sports, which also owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Capitals, announced a new broadcast agreement that called for Valor games to be live-streamed by the online Monumental Sports Network.
The other three teams still in the Arena League are the Philadelphia Soul, the Tampa Bay Storm and the Cleveland Gladiators.
Even as the Valor joined its ranks, the Arena League has been on shaky ground for several years. It canceled its 2009 season entirely and has continuously tweaked its business model. The league had 12 teams in 2015 and fielded eight this past season.
The Orlando Predators, an Arena team since 1991, were among those that discontinued operations this week, citing the uncertainty surrounding the league’s future.
“The Orlando Predators have chosen to suspend team operations today due to the reduced number of teams remaining in the Arena Football League as well as pending disagreements with the league,” the team said in a release. “Over the course of the past several years we have focused on building and growing our winning franchise, despite significant issues at the league level that have impaired our ability to be successful.”
Teams in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles are also apparently ceasing operations, and the Jacksonville and Arizona franchises are both reportedly leaving to join another indoor league. The Midwest-based Indoor Football League is the largest Arena competitor and will now have 11 teams, from Spokane, Wash., to Green Bay, Wis.
Jeff Bouchy, the Jacksonville Sharks’ operating manager, said in a statement: “Now was the right time to move the Sharks into an exciting new league that will become the premier league in arena/indoor football. Other teams from the AFL are expected to join us in this new chapter in Sharks’ history.”