Jamar Howard and Darron Thomas celebrate a touchdown against the San Jose Sabercats in 2014.

11 Reasons You Should Spend Your NFL Offseason Following the Arena Football League

Should you become an Arena Football fan? Flow Chart
Should you become an Arena Football fan? Follow this handy flow chart.

 

  1. It’s an ideal time investment

For those of us who like the NFL’s once-a-week approach to things because we, frankly, have a lot going on in our lives and we can’t be expected to watch 3-7 games per week of our own team playing basketball or baseball, Arena Football provides that nice, familiar, once every seven days opportunity to take a few hours off and catch a game. Oh, you have some extra time this week? You can watch every game from the week in a span of less than 24 hours.

  1. It’s the top level of indoor/arena football

The AFL isn’t the NFL. Don’t focus on what it isn’t. Instead of a touchback after every score, you’ll see kick returns off a rebound net. Extra points aren’t automatic. Defense is critical and turnovers become more important when the offense is expected to score every time they touch the ball. The offensive line and defensive line are going to be in a one-on-one battle with the man across from them for 60 minutes. You’re going to have a 300-lb. man catch a pass at least once a game. The AFL boasts the most talent of any indoor league – guys in this league have played in the NFL and are grinding to get back there, but it’s not because the NFL is a more fun experience. They want to get there because the NFL has more money to give. The fact that they’re so talented and fun to watch makes the next item even better.

  1. You’ll have easy access to players

Let’s be honest: The AFL needs you as fans. It’s not making billions upon billions per year through TV contracts, to the point where teams would be making money even if no one showed up. That means that the league needs to try to compete by offering superior access – you’ll often run into AFL athletes around town, whether through promotions with team sponsors, at community events, or even if you happen to live near their facilities. Because of the low barriers, you’ll have an opportunity to engage with them on a level that wouldn’t be available in other leagues. And when they do eventually make the jump to the CFL or NFL, it’s not just a local player moving up – it’s a good friend.

  1. You can watch games for free (without pirating anything!)

Remember how the AFL isn’t making billions on their broadcasting deals? They want you so much as a fan that you can catch most games for free on ESPN3, provided your internet provider allows you to get ESPN3. I like to hook mine up through my Xbox and watch on my TV in HD quality.

  1. It’s friends and family-friendly

Surely you saw the prices that Super Bowl tickets were going for. Just to get into the game, you could be looking at dropping $1000 on a single ticket for a single game. You could get season tickets to, say, the San Diego Chargers, who play in an old stadium and are a team that is telling their city that they’re relocating – you could get their very worst seats – and they’ll set you back $50/game for eight regular season games ($400*). For the same amount of money per game, you could get tickets to nine home games for the Los Angeles KISS…in the lower bowl at midfield. If you’d prefer, you could get those lower-level end zone seats – comparable to the Chargers tickets that you were going to buy (although about 100 yards closer to the action) – except you could afford THREE seats for the price of that one Chargers ticket. Would you rather watch a game with friends and family…or alone?

  1. Zero bad seats
Eric Rogers makes a touchdown grab.
Eric Rogers makes a TD grab. This is the view from the front row, taken with a consumer-grade DSLR with a stock lens.

Okay, I can’t promise that you won’t be sitting next to someone who smells like they use skunks as loofahs or in front of someone that plays soccer with your seat. But as far as sight lines…with the small field and almost every seat being in the first level in every arena…your worst seat is going to be about the equivalent of being 10 rows back at a pro or college game. You don’t have the horrible sightlines of being front row at a NFL game, either. There isn’t a small army of people standing in front of your seat – you’re virtually on the field (note: please don’t go on the field). There’s no glass separating you like in hockey – you can see every part of the field.

The only drawback to those end zone seats is that you’re less likely to get a free football, as footballs that go into the stands are souvenirs for fans to take home (or get signed at the autograph session on the field after the game).

  1. Wall-to-wall (and beyond) football

I alluded to this in the last one – there isn’t a safe zone out of bounds. There’s just action and fans, separated by a space the size of the word “and.” There’s a visceral appeal to those front rows – it’s an opportunity to hear all the trash talk you’d hear in the closest rows of an NBA game, but with the hitting of hockey. And without the glass, sometimes the action spills into the stands, so pay attention. And watch your beer!

  1. Improved gameplay

In addition to no safe quarter, there also aren’t many wasted plays in the Arena Football game. There are rebound nets set up behind the end zone, so kicks that would ordinarily become touchbacks must be returned. There’s no use for punts due to the field size, so a “punt” becomes a long field goal attempt, or, more often, an attempt to convert on fourth down. Kneel-downs stop the clock rather than allowing it to tick to the end of the game, so teams must earn positive yardage on each play to preserve a win. The narrow goalposts make extra-points significantly more difficult. Again due to the short field, every play has a legitimate opportunity to end in points for either team. And prior to the one-minute warning at the end of each half, the clock is essentially running the whole time, so the game is done in less than three hours. More action in less time and there’s still plenty of time to hit the concession stands.

  1. The AFL has a solid civic value

As opposed to the NFL, where billionaires make hundreds of millions of dollars per year in broadcasting fees, ticket sales, merchandise sales, then spend their time figuring out ways to take money from fans and taxpayers in every conceivable way from PSLs – paying for the right to buy a seat to creating a clear bag policy in order to sell branded clear bags to including demands for free stadiums, AFL teams take up residence in arenas that already exist. They settle for open dates in the calendar of those arenas, filling up nights that arenas would otherwise sit empty. They make the investment those cities have made in infrastructure more valuable and help municipalities make money without paying more. There aren’t threats to leave town to someone who will buy them a free arena – no one’s offering that. If an AFL owner can get fans to show up in a city, they’ll be happy to have a team there. To completely ruin a Field of Dreams quote: “If you come, they will stay.” That’s something even non-sports fans can get behind.

  1. Community engagement
Justin Monahan and Alvance Robinson visited a local school to talk to students.
Justin Monahan and Alvance Robinson visited a local school to talk to students.

AFL teams are a lot like the players – they offer better than 90% of the production ability of more established leagues and are valued at about 10% of the value. That means they’re out there overcompensating for that 10% they’re lacking for that opportunity to get their value up. They want to be out there in the community. They want to be out there telling children about the virtues of working hard and staying in school. They want to hang out with fans and they’re glad to hear that you enjoy watching them play. They want to get involved in their team’s community and develop relationships with the locals. Rather than being elites who have been guaranteed success since grade school (or guaranteed success by joining the NFL, in a team’s case), they are out in the public consistently trying to get people to value them at a level commensurate with the ability they have. You’re getting humble athletes and teams that realize they need you as a fan. Wouldn’t it be great to root for someone that knew you existed and responded to you?

  1. It makes you a better football fan without being creepy

You can see football in the offseason without discussing a bunch of guys’ “length” and what big, strong hands they have. Mike Mayock is still around, but thankfully he’s not discussing anyone’s “bubble butt.” You can simply focus on football. You can be well-versed in the different types of gridiron football rather than taking the NFL’s word that its brand of football is the best version of football available. With the Ray Rice case, Deflategate, the constant threats of punishment for Marshawn Lynch while eventually not fining him at all, hiding concussion issues for decades, and all the other constant lying done on behalf of the NFL, it’s advisable to question the NFL’s stance on anything.

Ready to become an Arena Football fan? I have a handy flowchart over at ArenaFan that will help you choose your team for 2015.

*Actually, $390. But I’m definitely not giving them credit for 10 home games when two of them are preseason games where the outcome doesn’t matter. Back

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