Indoor Football Expansion: Part One
By RJ Ciancio
Every indoor/arena football offseason, teams jump leagues, are founded and fold. In this article I will go over cities that I think could be good fits for a team. For a city to be eligible to make the list. The city will have to sustain a box lacrosse team, a minor league hockey, and/or indoor/arena soccer league team for a minimum of five years in its respective league(s). These sports usually are in the same or similar sized markets. The city must be in the United States and not already have an indoor or arena team in the big four leagues which are the: National Arena League (NAL), Arena Football League (AFL), Indoor Football League (IFL) and Champions Indoor Football (CIF). The location must have at least 10,000 people from the most recent US census to qualify. The venues in the area must sit at least 3,500 people for ice hockey event (500 seats smaller than the smallest venue with hockey seating in Ralston Arena) and/or 5,000 for basketball for a location to qualify, since the smaller arena of the big four leagues hold 5,000 for basketball (in the Westchester County Center). A venue can’t currently have and indoor/arena team to be listed as it could cause scheduling issues.
Chicago has nearly unparalleled importance in the game of arena football as Jim Foster held the first “test game” for the AFL between the Rockford Metros and the Chicago Politicians. The city would be home of a charter AFL team in the Chicago Bruisers, who would last from 1987 through 1989. The AFL would return to the Windy City in 2001 with the Rush, who would last from 2001-2008 and 2010-2013. The rush won the ArenaBowl in 2006. A year after the Rush won the ArenaBowl a new team would pop up in the city, courtesy of the Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL) with the Slaughter who would win the CIFL Championship in 2009 before jumping to the IFL in 2010 and would continue playing there until the team folded in 2013. In 2010, the Milwaukee Bonecrushers became the Chicago Cardinals as they played in the CIFL before another name change as the became the Knights in 2011 before folding. The following season, the CIFL would add the Chicago Vipers (who were re-named the Pythons mid-season) and folded after the season. In 2014 the CIFL would add yet another team to the Chicago area with the Blitz. In 2015 they jumped to American Indoor Football (AIF) where they would play until the league’s demise. They sat out the 2017 season but came back as members of the Midwest Professional Indoor Football before folding in the middle of the season. In 2019, the American Arena League (AAL) was to add a Chicago team called the Aztecs, but they never played a game. Chicago has had the Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL) playing in the city since 1992 and the Mustangs playing in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) from 2012-2017. With the Credit Union 1 Arena, the United Center, Sears Centre Arena and Allstate Arena as viable arenas I can easily see the IFL or AFL expanding to the Windy City to expand their league’s footprint as the city also has America’s third largest media market.
The city of Cincinnati is one that’s been without a winning pro football team for a while, but the indoor and arena game has helped in quenching the Queen City’s thirst for competitive football. The AFL made its first stop in the city all the way back in 1992 with the Rockers, who sadly just lasted one season. In 2003, Cincinnati was awarded a team in Arena Football 2 (af2) with the Swarm with one forgettable season. After the 2004 National Indoor Football League (NIFL) season the Waco Marshalls moved to the Queen City, playing in the US Bank Arena for two years, making the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 before moving to Dayton in 2007. So why did the Marshalls move? You can thank the Cincinnati Jungle Kats of the af2 who moved into the US Bank Arena. The team played for one sad season as they went 1-15 and folded. In 2010 the CIFL awarded the Queen City a team in the Commandos. The team was coached by current Carolina Cobras head coach, Billy Back. In back to back seasons the Commandos were league champions in 2010 and 2011 and became United Indoor Football League (UIFL) champions in 2012 before folding. Cincinnati was home to the Kings of the MASL and Cyclones of the ECHL. The city is home to the 32nd largest media market in the United States and with U.S. Bank Arena, Fifth Third Arena, Armory Fieldhouse and Cintas Center as viable venues I could see NAL or IFL or revived AIF expanding to the city.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, a city known to go against mainstream norms has had its share of non-mainstream football teams. Sin City got its first AFL team in 1994 with the Las Vegas Sting. The team lasted two seasons before the franchise moved to Anaheim to become the Piranhas. After the 2002 AFL season the Gladiators moved from New Jersey to Las Vegas, keeping the Gladiators moniker. Sadly, the team wasn’t able to muster up much success in the city and by 2008 the team had relocated to Cleveland. The controversial Legends Football League (LFL) put a team called the Sin in their league starting in 2011 and folding after the 2015 season. In 20115 the AFL put a team in Sin City with the Outlaws (not to be confused with the XFL 2001 team of the same name). Sadly the team only lasted one year, going 5 and 12. The city has been home to the ECHL’s Wranglers from 2003-2014 and the MASL’s Legends from 2012-2016. With the Mandalay Bay Events Center, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Orleans Arena, T-Mobile Arena, Thomas and Mack Center as possible home venues I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 39th largest media market in the US getting a team in the IFL or CIF sometime soon.
Canton, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and currently no pro football team. The City was awarded its first indoor team back in 2005 as the Legends joined the American Indoor Football Association (later the AIF). In the team’s second year they won the league championship. The team would then fall off and fold after the 2008 campaign. Just a few years later, Canton got a team in the UIFL with the Cougars who played in 2011 before folding. Canton was home to the Invaders indoor soccer team from 1984-1996 and the Ohio Vortex indoor soccer team from 2009-2012. With the Canton Civic Center as a viable venue, I can see a revived AIF welcoming another team to the city, with the United States’ 19th largest media market backing them.
The Motor City was another of the early cities to host an AFL. In 1988 the Detroit Drive had their inaugural season. They went 9-3 before defeating the Pittsburgh Gladiators in the semi-finals and took down the Chicgo Bruisers in ArenaBowl II. They would repeat the next season defeating the Gladiators in ArenaBowl III. In 1990 the Drive would enter unprecedented territory as they won their third straight ArenaBowl. They would lose to the Dallas Texans in 1991’s ArenaBowl to the Tampa Bay Storm. In 1992 the Drive would rebound and win another Arenabowl, this time taking down the Orlando Predators for the championship and would lose another Arenabowl to the Storm in 1993. After the ArenaBowl loss they relocated to Massachusetts. In 2001 the AFL returned to Motown with the Detroit Fury. The team would not be able to replicate the success of the Drive and lasted four short seasons, winning just one playoff game. The CIFL was to have added a Detroit based team in 2007 in the Motor City Reapers but the team never took the field. In 2013 the CIFL was finally able to field a Detroit team called the Thunder. This team was a step down (success wise) from the Fury as they went 4-6. The 2014 season was worse as the team folded after a forfeit loss the Erie Explosion. The city was home to the Detroit Turbos box lacrosse team from 1984-1994 and later the Detroit Vipers from 1994-2001. Detroit was also home to the Detroit Wazo Flo starting back in 2008 in the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL) before jumping to the MASL and currently reside in the M2 (the MASL’s developmental league). The Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum, Little Caesars Arena and Calihan Hall are all suitable venues for a team. I could see the AFL or IFL expanding to the United State’s 14th largest media market soon.