Where Could the NAL go From Here?
With the Indoor Football League (IFL) expanding to Columbus, Ohio for the 2021 season, their league footprint has grown immensely. The National Arena League (NAL) currently has a strong east coast presence and is working on moving western. What if the NAL focused on only as far west as Columbus, Ohio so they could enter merger talks to establish a national league? A merger could be great for the sport.
It’s worth noting that previous rumors of merger talks between the leagues were denied by partial Carolina Cobras and Jacksonville Sharks owner Rob Storm with a Facebook post from back in August of 2019 that reads: “Gotta love some people. They put out a post, I give [an] honest answer, so they delete my post. There are no current talks between the NAL and the IFL. But, what would I know….”
For a city to qualify, it will have had 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 similarly sized markets. The city must be in the United States and not already have a team in the IFL or Champions Indoor Football. The venues in the area must sit at least 5,406 people for ice hockey events (the capacity of the WesBanco Arena, home of the West Virginia Roughriders) and at most 22,000 (which is the capacity of the Greensboro Coliseum, home of the Carolina Cobras).
Up first we have Rochester, New York. The city has been home to many indoor and arena teams in various leagues over the years. Rochester’s first team was the Rochester Brigade in Arena Football 2 (af2), who joined in 2001 and folded after 2003. The city would get its next team in the Rochester Raiders who joining the Great Lakes Indoor Football League (later the Continental Indoor Football League) in 2006 and would jump to the IFL in 2009 and go into dormancy after the 2010 season. Raiders fans were able to see the team one last time as they came back in 2014 in American Indoor Football (AIF). After the 2014 season, the team was officially done. Rochester was home to National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) original incarnation of the Rochester Nighthawks from 1995-2019 (a new team of the same name has replaced them) and the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rochester Americans since 1956. With the Blue Cross Arena and Main Street Armoury as possible venues, don’t be surprised to see the NAL in Rochester soon.
Another upstate New York city that can host a team is Albany. The city has a long-rooted history in the sport dating back to 1990 when the Arena Football League (AFL) placed the Albany Firebirds in town. The team would last from 1990-2000 before moving to Indiana. Just two years later the af2 passed arena football torch to the expansion Albany Conquest. The team lasted from 2002-2009 (though the team reverted back to the old Firebirds for their final season). It would take until 2018 for the AFL to return to the Times Union Center with the Albany Empire in 2018 and drew some of the strongest crowds in the league. Sadly, the team, along with the league folded after the 2019 campaign. Albany has hosted two AHL franchises in the past, the first of which was the Albany RiverRats, who lasted from 1993-2010. The RverRats were replaced by the Albany Devils and played from 2010-2017. With Times Union Arena only major tenant being the Siena Saints NCAA basketball team, the arena has lots of open dates the NAL could easily fill.
The state of Pennsylvania was left without a NAL after the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks folded following the 2018 season and an arena football void now lays in the Keystone State. Wilkes-Bare/Scranton could help fill the gap. The city has had a taste of arena football from 2002-2009 in the af2 with the Wilkes-Bare/Scranton Pioneers. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL have played in town since 1999. A NAL team in the area would make sense as they have proven support for sports teams of the past with Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza as a viable venue.
Another city in the Keystone state that could host a NAL team is Reading. The city got its first taste of indoor football back in 2006 when the Reading Express joined the Atlantic Indoor Football League and would jump to the IFL starting in 2011 where they would stay until the team disbanded following the 2012 campaign and the city would get a one year team in the AIF for 2015 with the ASI Panthers. Reading has been home to the ECHL’s Reading Royals since 2001 and are going strong today. With a history of the sport in the city, I could see a NAL team expanding there soon so arena football can return to the Santander Arena.
One last city I think would be a great host for a NAL team is Roanoke, Virginia. The city doesn’t have lots of arena football under its belt as they only hosted the af2’s Roanoke Steam from 2000-2002, they have supported many other teams in the past. From 1970-1976 the Roanoke Valley Rebels played in the Eastern Hockey League and Southern Hockey League. It would take until 1993 for hockey to return to the Berglund Center with the ECHL’s Roanoke Express from 1993-2004. In 2001 the National Basketball Developmental League placed the Dazzle in town where they would play until 2006. With longstanding sports support, it would be smart to put an expansion team in Roanoke.