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Eight teams on tap for 2016 AFL season

Arena Football LeagueThe Arena Football League is down to eight teams for the 2016 season, as defections and folding franchises gives the league its smallest lineup since 1991.

There were 14 teams in the Arena Football League as recently as 2014, but with Spokane and Idaho defecting to the Indoor Football League and the San Jose SaberCats folding last fall, eight remain standing for 2016. Now, these eight teams are pretty strong — Arizona, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, Portland and Tampa Bay — but the size of the league is clearly a concern in league offices. From Crain’s Cleveland Business:

“The first step was to get the platform straightened out, get the finances secure and get a good core group of owners,” said [Scott] Butera, a former CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. “I think some people in the past came in focused on growth, but it’s more important to have the right group and not focus on the numbers.”

Financial problems aren’t new to the league, which is entering its 29th season.

The AFL, which reportedly owed $14 million to its creditors at the time, suspended operations in 2009 and adopted a single-entity model when it returned in 2010. All players and coaches are league employees, with investors then purchasing shares in the league.

“When the owners can’t pay their bills, in the single-entity model that the AFL is, it puts a strain on the other owners,” said Mike Ostrowski, a Cavaliers vice president who serves as the chief operating officer of the Gladiators and Lake Erie Monsters.

The league owners do have a game plan: sell AFL memberships to owners of existing arena properties, such as NHL or NBA franchises. The idea is to have a sales force double up on sales and extend them throughout the year. While that’s been a goal for years, we haven’t seen many NHL or NBA owners bite; for every Cleveland Cavaliers-related property there are three or four franchises with no ties to other sports teams.

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