One week after opening their seasons on a positive note, both the AAL and IFL have plans in the works that will put those seasons on hold.
In what he described as an “unprecedented situation,” Commissioner Todd Tryon announced yesterday the suspension of the IFL “until further notice” after two scheduled games in Oakland and San Diego, each set for a 6:05 local time kickoff. Those games will be played without fans in attendance but will be broadcast on YouTube. Two other scheduled games in San Francisco and Cedar Rapids have been postponed.
Later today, Commissioner Tony Zefiretto is expected to announce the postponement of all AAL games scheduled for this weekend, which was to feature the Carolina Predators traveling to Methuen to take on the expansion Jersey Bearcats, while the Tampa Tornadoes were set to play their inaugural game against the Xtreme in Louisville. Late last night the Xtreme stayed true to their name by becoming the first team to take the precaution of cancelling their entire inaugural 2020 season. Additionally, the West Michigan Ironmen and South Florida Thunder have each put their seasons on hold, canceling games on March 22 and March 28, respectively. More announcements from Zefiretto are expected tomorrow.
Also last night, Commissioners Ricky Bertz of the CIF and Chris Reynolds of the AWFC issued press releases announcing suspensions in play. Bertz’s timeline calls for a resumption in “no longer than approximately 30 days,” and he cites “mandates” from municipalities and venues across the league to ban public events. The CIF season was to start tomorrow night with games in Salina, Kansas and Sioux City, Iowa.
The AWFC presser doesn’t provide a specific return date. Action was to get underway this coming Tuesday, March 17 when the Tri-City Rage were to head to Wenatchee Valley, Washington in a game against the Skyhawks. Washington was Ground Zero for the U.S. outbreak, with numerous cases still being reported, and Reynolds is acutely aware his league could become a catalyst in spreading the virus to Idaho, which has yet to report a case.
In the EIFL, Commissioner Bobby Dammarell issued a press release at 9:00 Eastern this morning indicating his league would push its season opener originally set for March 28 back to April 19. He stresses that this is a delay and not the end of his season.
Yesterday, the XFL became the first alternative football league to cancel the remainder of its season, and it looks like Vince McMahon is going to dig further into his deep pockets. He’s committed to covering players’ base pay and benefits, and will refund ticketholders.
At this point, there’s still no official word on plans in the NAL. The league has more luxury of time than its peers since they don’t get underway until April 4, but players are growing restless in the absence of any official word from the league’s front office. Commissioner Chris Siegfried has not yet responded to a request for his plan of action.
From 30,000 feet, arena and indoor football could be seen as followers of a pack led by the NBA and NHL, which have suspended their seasons indefinitely, and the NCAA, which has outright canceled March Madness as well as all other winter championships and spring sports. However, theirs is an economic reality much more sobering in an industry devoid of revenue streams from television contracts and royalties. Arena teams depend upon bodies in seats and concession lines. Even at that, their bottom lines range from a sliver of black at best to a sea of red, the latter being closer to the norm. The lost gate will be crippling, and few if any can afford business interruption insurance, assuming they could find a carrier in the first place.
We can continue the debate of whether draconian measures are warranted or an overreaction. Many have suggested the latter. One thing is certain: for an arena football season whose landscape has been altered by the folding of the AFL, COVID-19 could be a bulldozer that radically reshapes it. In fact, that may already be the case. Leagues and teams have Heismanned their financial advisors and have demonstrated civic responsibility and regard for a greater good in a way we’ve never seen before.
And another side is in waiting. If arena and indoor football can reach it, they’ll be that much stronger and more cohesive.