Reports: AFL in danger of closing up shop due to financial woes

Updated: December 8, 2008, 6:51 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Arena Football League is facing financial pressures that could force the league to dissolve, according to a number of newspaper reports.

The Denver Post, citing two unnamed sources "with knowledge of the league's troubles," said the league could dissolve if it doesn't secure financing by Dec. 19.

"The business model for the league is broken," Michael Young, Colorado Crush executive vice president, told the Denver Post. "If the rug is pulled out from under us, it's pulled out from under us."

On Friday, the AFL issued a statement which said: "The AFL is working on long-term structural improvements which have unfortunately delayed some important events, such as the release of the 2009 schedule, the Dispersal Draft, and the beginning of free agency. We thank our fans for their enthusiasm for these events and ask them to be patient a little longer while we finalize our long-term improvements. All AFL teams are working toward winning ArenaBowl XXIII."

Phil Simon, director of communications with the San Jose SaberCats, told ESPN.com's Liz Merrill they've gotten a lot of calls from fans and season-ticket holders asking "Is there going to be a season?"

"Right now, we're in a push to renew season tickets," Simon said, "and people are not willing to put down money if they don't know if we're going to have a season.

"We tell them that we're proceeding business as usual. That there will be a season and we will be playing."

On Saturday, the Columbus Dispatch reported that two players said they had received text messages warning them that the league was in jeopardy.

"We're supposed to find out sometime [Friday night] whether we're even going to have a league anymore," Michael Landry, a free agent who played for the Columbus Destroyers last season, told the Dispatch. "From what I know, the league's in trouble."

"I've heard it, but I hear that every year," Destroyers receiver Derek Lee told the Dispatch. "I hear it's a little more serious this year than in previous years. I'm worried, but I can't let it take over. I just have to hope for the best."

Larrell Johnson, an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Brigade, told Merrill that he has heard that there is a "50-50 chance" that they will play this year.

"A lot of uncertainty going on right now," he said. "It's been really frustrating. You don't know what you're going to do or what's going to happen. We're sitting here teetering on [whether] we're going to play or fold."

Johnson said he's at least lucky to have a Plan B. He's a store manager at a Dollar General in Kansas City.

"But for the guys relying on this as their main job, it's not really fair to them," he added. ""I always have a backup plan because you never know what could happen. This offseason has really proven that."

In October, New Orleans VooDoo Owner Tom Benson told the AFL he planned to fold his team. Benson, who also owns the New Orleans Saints, owned a team which hosted the last two ArenaBowls and led the league in attendance in 2007 at 16,645 per game. The team was fifth last year with an average of 14,321.

David Baker, the league's commissioner for the past 12 years, resigned in July, two days before the ArenaBowl. The league began play in 1987.

Baker's replacement has not been named.

Earlier, a statement from the AFL said that the league is looking at a number of ways to structure the league going forward. "Ultimately, owners will vote on the best of numerous options, which could include traditional incremental growth or a nine-figure infusion of capital from a blue-chip investment group," the statement read.

The league's games were televised nationally by ESPN, which also has a partial ownership stake in the league.

"We have always admired the AFL's fan-first philosophy, but we have no comment on their business activity," ESPN said in a statement.