Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Report: Arena Football League down to four teams, including Storm, after week of upheaval

Washington's fledgling Arena Football League team has yet to play a game, and after the league's week of massive upheaval, it's not clear when it will ultimately take the field.

The league shrank from nine to four franchises in a matter of days, after three teams ceased operations and two others decided to bolt for a competing indoor league. That leaves four teams still standing, including the Storm and the Washington Valor, which 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."

The other teams still in the Arena League are the Philadelphia Soul and the Cleveland Gladiators.

The Arena League has been on shaky ground for several years. It cancelled its 2009 season and has continuously tweaked its business model. The league had 12 teams in 2015 and fielded eight last 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."

The Storm was Orlando's biggest rival; their games were nicknamed the "War on I-4."

"We are saddened to see our biggest rival close its doors and no longer operate," Storm president Derrick Brooks, the Bucs' Hall of Fame linebacker, said in a statement. "However, we will continue to support the Arena Football League and are looking forward to the upcoming 2017 season."

Teams in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles are also apparently ceasing operations, and the Jacksonville and Arizona franchises are 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."

Times staff writer Aaron Torres contributed to this report.

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