The Arena Football League is closing for a year, but Soul president Ron Jaworski said last night that he has no doubt the 22-year-old league will return with a full slate of games in 2010, and maybe even with another team or two.
"It will come back, absolutely it will come back," Jaworski said last night before working as an ESPN analyst calling the Eagles-Cleveland Browns Monday Night Football game.
"Not a question in my mind. I'm 100 percent sure, 100 percent, because people love the game. . . . The feeling was we just need to take a deep breath in this economy with a lot of things going on and let's get our long-term plan together, a strategic plan that all the teams will have to follow."
The Arena Football League's owners voted Sunday night to suspend operation for this season so that it can centralize its operations. As it is now, each of the 17 teams handles its own marketing, sponsorships and ticket sales, something owners think the league needs to handle. Also there are two league offices, one in New York and one in Chicago. The league lost money last year, and corporate sponsorships have dwindled.
"These are trying economic times," Jon Bon Jovi, co-owner of the ArenaBowl champion Soul, said in a statement. "The revamping will ensure that the AFL continues to provide value to its fans and not only survives but thrives in the years to come."
Another big problem is that players' salaries are not tied to league revenue. Jaworski confirmed that the players volunteered to take a pay cut this season - possibly as much as 25 percent - but that agreeing to do so would've been a temporary fix to a long-term problem.
"I don't know the depth of those discussions, but there were discussions," Jaworski said. "They would give us some leeway as far as saving some costs, but at the end of the day, it would've been pennywise and pound foolish.
"It was very noble of [the players] to make that offer. That's the hard part, because we have some great players. These guys love the game. They want to play, and they have no options now. They have no options. There's Canada, but there are not quite NFL players here, and Canada is not a significant option for them. That's the sad part. The players that love the game can't play it."
Jaworski said that the Soul, which won the AFL championship last season, would operate with a skeleton staff, and then "within 90 days we'll begin to ramp up for the 2010 season."
When asked whether the Soul lost money last season, Jaworski said that the team's financial reports hadn't been finalized, and that he was unaware of the numbers.
One source said the team lost $1 million last season.
Jaworski said he anticipated that New Orleans, which had already said it would close for 2009, will be back in 2010, and that there could be an expansion franchise in Pittsburgh.
Soul fans who have purchased tickets for the 2009 season will receive full refunds. Each season-ticket holder will be contacted by a Soul representative.
Soul coaches and staff were notified yesterday of the suspension of play for the 2009 season. "We have a very talented group of associates, and we are sorry to see them go," acting general manager Paul Korzilius said.
ESPN acquired TV rights in 2006 and has a minority stake in the league. The cable network signed a five-year deal for multimedia rights.
The AFL's attendance, TV ratings and merchandise sales increased last year. The Soul was second in attendance and merchandise sales.
"There's always grumbling about potential teams folding or something not going as planned," said Soul quarterback Matt D'Orazio, the league's MVP. "But it always seems to start up and always do better than the year before."