For the past season, my lunchtime routine has consisted of clicking on Facebook for the soap-operatic drama of the American Arena League Forum. Today, however, instead of dialing into arena football’s version of ‘As The World Turns,’ I landed in some Wellesian ‘War Of The Worlds’ episode being broadcast by Professional Arena Football.
Despite two re-clicks, the new PAF league logo persisted atop my screen, and it slowly dawned on me that the AAL Forum was gone for good. I’ll confess to feeling a bit traumatized, like in one of those childhood flashbacks where you come home from school and mom tells you your favorite Uncle Tony – he’s a little off but you love him because he always does something to make you laugh – won’t be coming around anymore. You later find out that the bank foreclosed on Uncle Tony. He lost everything, and now he’s God knows where.
Just like that, Gregg Fornario has taken the keys to the forum, and only God knows where the AAL is headed.
Sure, we’ll miss Uncle Tony, but arena football is more dog-eat-dog than any other sport. For Fornario, taking occupancy of this particular piece of electronic real estate is as brilliant as it is legal. After all, it was his Richmond Roughriders marketing team that created the forum, and all he did was rebrand it. With that one play, he wrapped his arms around 2,754 AAL fans and slid us all into the pile of his winnings. And it didn’t even cost him the price of an ante. It’s like he acquiring Manhattan and still kept the $24 in his back pocket.
Don’t mistake this as a mere flesh wound inflicted upon the AAL. Symbolically, it’s an emasculation of the highest order. It’s bad enough the first two teams of Fornario’s league – the New England Cavalry and Richmond Roughriders – were once in the AAL portfolio. Now, Fornario has taken their identity, and it’s their own fault.
As Fornario’s team built up the most robust and passionate collection of arena fans on social media, the AAL’s front office duo of Jack Bowman and Tony Zefiretto sat back in indifference. They were okay with someone else doing all the work. Now, with the rebranding of their league’s forum, Bowman and Zefiretto have lost any lifeline to a fan base that always gave a damn where they never did. They’ve been set adrift in cyberspace with circuits dead, floating like Major Tom in a most peculiar way.
Fornario’s repossession of his forum is only a prelude. Tomorrow, the PAF launches its new website. Next week, more teams should be announced. Maybe a few more come over from the AAL. I’d count on that. What better way is there for Fornario to stock the Southern Arena Football division of the PAF? Taking AAL franchises will be as easy as dumping a bucket of fish into the new koi pond he’s building on the front yard of arena football.
And don’t look for this War of the Worlds to resolve itself when the predator bites off too much and gags on the contaminants of its prey. Fornario is likely to subsume the fittest franchises that pay their players and play their scheduled games. Any who weren’t wired that way by the AAL will be reprogrammed. Look for escrows, heavy fines, and a lot more policing in the PAF, as this league is rising from the ashes of mistakes past.
Come lunchtime tomorrow, I’ll again click on Facebook. Gone will be those memories of Uncle Tony’s shenanigans that always made me laugh, and in its place will come a sense of natural order. And next week, the AAL as we know it may well be gone for good, leaving a comedic void in my life. I’m not really sure how I’ll fill it, but I’ll get by.
In the end, Major Tom surmised it best. Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.