Fast-paced, fun for the entire family, and a great way to cheer on your favorite team, the Arena Football League provides the ultimate value for your dollar. The Arena Football League, the third longest-running professional football league in North America, brings affordable sports action to football fans.
“The quality of the game is outstanding, and the athletes are great,” says AFL Commissioner Scott Butera, who has held the position for the past year. “It is well-coached and has everything you see in the NFL and CFL every year.”
Scott Butera is active in several sports and has a deep love of football. He played football while attending Trinity College in Hartford and graduated with a Master of Business Administration from the widely recognized Leonard N. Stern School of Business.
Working in areas ranging from investing to lodging, gaming, real estate, media, and leisure companies prepared Butera for his current role as AFL commissioner. He has a great deal of experience in raising capital, strategic advisory work and restructuring troubled businesses and says that much of his passion comes from a love of the business. “I enjoy working with people and customers and growing businesses, and turning businesses around.”
The Arena Football League is not just about football but providing a total fan experience. Unlike many other events, at AFL games, fans are more than just spectators. The AFL’s ‘Fans’ Bill of Rights’ states that “every fan is entitled to interact with, and have access to, players and coaches for autographs and conversation in recognition of their support at every game.”
Fans get to up-to-date, accurate and complete information about AFL players, games, the league, coaches, and performance. All games are extremely interactive, fast-paced and fun, with fans being invited onto the field to meet players post-game. These, and other fan-friendly initiatives, have been an integral part of the Arena Football League for many years.
Much like games played by the National Football League and the Canadian Football League, the AFL is fast-paced and full of action. With a field 85 feet wide by 200 feet in length – the same as a standard NHL hockey rink – the football is kicked from the goal line, and the team with the ball has four downs to gain 10 yards or score. With the addition of a drop kick field goal, which is worth four points during normal play (or two points as a post-touchdown conversion), scoring remains the same as in the National Football League, and six points are needed for a touchdown. With over 26 million fans experiencing the thrill of an AFL game since the League began, some have been the lucky recipients of keeping a football that is thrown or bounces into the seats.
“We do a lot for our fans,” comments Butera. “All our fans are invited to be on the field after the game, where they can meet the players and shake hands with them. We think it’s very important that fans get to know our players personally to develop that bond. If you sit in the front row at one of our games, you are right in on the action, and we carry that forward as much as we can.” Additionally, AFL players give back to their community through involvement with clinics and attending high school practices to show their support.
The AFL appeals to a broad range of sports fans across the United States. Its history goes back to 1981, the year that Jim Foster – a promotions manager with the NFL – was inspired to create a new game as he watched an indoor soccer match at Madison Square Garden.
Foster sketched out his idea on a 9” X 12” manila envelope, jotted down a few notes on gameplay, and made a proposed plan of the playing field. He showed his idea to others at the NFL and received praise. Encouraged, Foster sought a professional artist and came up with game rules and a business plan.
The project was shelved for several years when Foster took on a position with the United States Football League (USFL). When the USFL ceased operations in 1985, he once again devoted himself to his new football concept, and a test game was played on April 27, 1986, in Rockford, Illinois at the Rockford MetroCentre. A second successful game – with a considerably larger budget – was held at Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon on February 26, 1987.
The AFL was founded with four teams, the Pittsburgh Gladiators, Denver Dynamite, Washington Commandos, and Chicago Bruisers. The first AFL game took place between the Gladiators and Commandos on June 19, 1987, at Pittsburgh Civic Arena in front of 12,117 cheering fans… and the rest is history.
Commissioner Butera has spearheaded initiatives to promote the AFL and gain additional exposure for the league, ranging from marketing on social media, in print ads, targeted TV spots, and profiles of players and coaches and teams. Butera and his team have been working on ways to develop and foster the AFL. They are reviewing high-quality sponsorships and investigating adding new teams and expanding in major markets such as the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic, and reaching into Texas and Chicago in the Midwest.
“We are more focused on having quality teams than quantity,” says Butera of the nine-team-strong league, which aims to add another team or two in the coming year. “We’ve got to be in the right markets, with the right plan. If you rush into this, you can have a lot of problems, and that has plagued every league in the past.” Just as important to the game is finding the right owners, someone who understands sports operations, has the necessary infrastructure, ties to the community, and brings value to the AFL.
The league plays eighteen games in the regular season, followed by three rounds of layoffs, and the season runs from the beginning of March until the middle of August, which is the off-season for the NFL. Games are presently live streamed on ESPN3, carried on CBS’ sports network, and aired through several local broadcasters. Although the games are played indoors, the league is considering a number of outdoor games in the coming year.
The league has a strong focus on families and value. Unlike the National Football League and Canadian Football League, Arena Football League games are an affordable option. “If you go to an NFL game right now, the average ticket is $200 to $300 for good seats, and if you have a family of four or five, you will end up spending $1,000 or $2,000.” For fans wishing to experience the thrill of football but not the cost, AFL tickets start at as little as $20, with average attendance per game ranging from 12,000 to 14,000 football fans.
AFL games usually last two and a half to three hours, not the four to five hours of an NFL game. The AFL is also gathering a new audience, namely millennials, those people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. To reach this emerging fan base, the league is turning to outlets like social media and mobile phones; it even introduced live betting in Las Vegas on cell phones this year. It is also promoting the AFL to the Hispanic and Latin American communities – which traditionally focus mainly on soccer – and is investigating reaching out to Europe and China.
“The good news for us is because we are arena football, we have the ability to grow more quickly, because all we need is an arena with some dates, as opposed to outdoor football, which needs to have a large facility that costs hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars to develop,” says Butera. “And we don’t have that burden.”
The league is in the process of working with new merchandise partners, and products sold by the AFL such as hats, T-shirts, and sweatshirts, are made using high-quality, state-of-the-art brands to generate good sales. All in all, the Arena Football League is about fun for the whole family at a reasonable price, and fostering a great night out where fans can really enjoy themselves as the organization broadens its reach demographically, getting more millennials and female fans involved in the fast-paced football action.
“We have some really cool uniform designs and logos,” comments Butera. “I think our teams to a great job with content in that regard. That is a big area of focus for us that and we’ve got some great new partners, and we are very excited about that. The big challenge for us is getting more people to know about the AFL and, more importantly, to understand our sport and what a great sport and entertainment source it is.”