By Barry Janoff
April 6, 2017: The Arena Football League nearly collapsed during the off-season following a rash of franchise foldings and departures.
But the league received some good news as it prepared for its 30th campaign of indoor play — an investment in two new teams by Ted Leonsis and the continued ownership presence of Dan Gilbert — followed by the signing of a deal to have at least 17 games live-streamed on ArenaFootball.com via Sportsrocket Turbine.
The recently launched Turbine is a digital platform that enables users to simultaneously live-stream events via a single feed to all major social platforms within the platform’s native player.
As part of its deal with the AFL, Turbine said it would make games, live look-ins and real time highlights available to people "nearly everywhere they consume video," beginning with season openers this weekend.
New York-based Sportsrocket is run by founder and CEO Brian Bedol, whose resume includes launching Classic Sports Network (now ESPN Classic) and College Sports Television (now CBS Sports Network).
AFL partners include Riddell, Spalding, New Era and the CBS Sports Network, which is scheduled to air weekly AFL games and then the post-season.
Despite having lost five of its eight franchises from 2016 — three folded, two bolted to rival indoor leagues — the AFL plays on, guided by ownership with proven sports success and acumen among its returning three franchises and two expansion teams.
The two new teams — the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade — are majority owned by Leonsis, founder, chairman and CEO for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, whose teams include the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics.
Of the returning franchises, the Cleveland Gladiators are owned by Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans, Quicken Loans Arena); and the chairman for the Tampa Bay Storm is Jeff Vinik (majority owner for the Tampa Bay Lightning and a minority owner for the Boston Red Sox).
Storm team president is Derrick Brooks, an 11-time NFL Pro Bowler who played his entire pro career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1995-2008) and was a member of the winning Super Bowl XXXVII squad. He now is a successful businessman and prominent community leader.
The ownership group for the third returning franchise, the Philadelphia Soul, is led by Craig Spencer (chairman/CEO Arden Group real estate firm) and Pete Ciarrocchi (chairman/CEO for renowned Chickie’s and Pete’s Crab House and Sports Bar chain).
Soul ownership also includes former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski and former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil.
The three franchises that folded are the Orlando Predators, Portland Steel and Los Angeles KISS, the latter majority owned by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS fame.
Concurrently, the Jacksonville Sharks moved to the rival eight-team National Arena League and the Arizona Rattlers are now part of the ten-team Indoor Football League.
The Washington Valor will play in Verizon Center and have games aired on Monumental Sports Network, both also under the auspices of MSE. The Baltimore Brigade will play in Royal Farms Arena.
Cleveland will share Quicken Loans Arena with the Cavaliers.
Philadelphia will play in Wells Fargo Center. Tampa plays in Amalie Arena.
Sportsrocket Turbine debuted during the Formula Drift Streets of Long Beach (Calif., March 31-April 2). According to Sportsrocket, live-stream views from the event increased more than 600% versus 2016, from 140,000 streams to nearly one million.
Last month, Virgin Group made a "strategic investment" in Skyrocket.
"Turbine was a tremendous success during its first engagement last weekend," Bedol said in a statement. "It’s a powerful syndication tool created to address the challenge of reaching fans where they already consume content, rather than asking them to travel to a new destination.
"Sportsrocket changes the playing field, offering forward-thinking rights-holders like the AFL the ability to distribute easily, broadly, and profitably," said Bedol.
Sportsrocket also works with leagues, teams, publishers and rights-holders including Formula Drift, Turner Sports' eLeague, Big Ten Network, AS Roma, National Lacrosse League, Major League Soccer and the PGA Tour.
Regarding the AFL’s new digital alliance, "Everyone here is thrilled to be working with Sportsrocket as the 2017 AFL season gets underway," according to AFL commissioner, Scott Butera, who joined the AFL in 2014 following tenures as a top executive for the Tropicana and Foxwoods Casino hotels.
"We examined the marketplace thoroughly and are confident that Sportsrocket’s innovative live-streaming solution is the best platform to help us grow our exciting sport’s fan base. Most importantly, they have a deep understanding of sports media, and we get the benefit of that experience."
ArenaBowl XXX is scheduled for Aug. 26.
Back to Home Page