Three years ago, the Cleveland Gladiators advanced to the Arena Bowl. Two years ago, they slipped a bit, but the league was still going strong, with a dozen teams. One year ago, the Arena League contracted to eight teams. And now, it's down to five. Can the league survive?
Gladiators wide receiver Collin Taylor, who's been with the team for four seasons, believes it can, as long as future owners bring the same type of commitment as Gladiators (and Cavaliers and Monsters) owner Dan Gilbert.
Teams like the Los Angeles Kiss and Arizona Rattlers have left the AFL, but cornerstone franchises like the Gladiators, Philadelphia Soul and Tampa Bay Storm remain, solely because of strong ownership. Jeffrey Vinik, who owns the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, also owns the Storm. Former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski owns the Soul.
The AFL is already exploring future owners with the same level of commitment. In the meantime, the 2017 season is just two weeks away. The five teams will see a lot of each other, meaning rivalries will develop (or heat up). And quality of play should improve, with top players battling for fewer jobs. But down the road, the Arena League will need to add, not subtract. Just another challenge for a league that's always been entertaining, but never conventional.
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