TAMPA — "The Year of the Fan" is quickly turning into the year of the forgettable for the Arena Football League.
Labor strife between the league and players union that resulted in Orlando and Pittsburgh's season-opening game to be played primarily with replacement players — in front of a nationally televised audience — has reappeared.
"The tactics of the Union in our negotiations have been unfortunate," read an open letter to fans on the AFL's website. "The Union has consistently misinformed the public throughout the negotiations."
Friday, Cleveland players took part in a work stoppage that resulted in visiting Pittsburgh being awarded a 2-0 win, the first forfeit in the AFL's 25-year history. Fans who traveled from Pittsburgh heard the news just before kickoff.
"Due to our outstanding unfair labor issues with the league, work stoppages continue to be a reality," players union executive director Ivan Soto told the Tampa Bay Times in an email. "Clearly the only way we can get the league to bargain in good faith and resolve the outstanding labor issues is through the use of labor action, and the players clearly see this."
The labor dispute has affected television coverage. The NFL Network, which televises "Arena Football Friday," pulled the live broadcast of the Pittsburgh-Cleveland game because of "labor uncertainty." The AFL website stated that future live telecasts on the network are in jeopardy.
The website also outlined the league's latest proposal to the AFLPU, which includes an increase in player pay beginning this week and continuing for each of the next seven seasons. It also affords flexibility for player housing and requires each team to pay for travel if a player is traded.
The AFLPU posted a response on its website. Soto said the union won't accept "ultimatum bargaining" but considers the latest proposal progress.
"This proposal is closer to a real deal than we have been for almost a year," he said. "So I am hopeful that the owners will consider how far we have come and how much our fans have put up with."
The AFLPU is expected send its counterproposal today.