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Neutral Site for ArenaBowl is Fan Unfriendly
by Randy Snow
Originally Posted on ArenaFan.com, Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Arena Football League has approved a plan to begin hosting future ArenaBowls at neutral sites starting next year, the same way the NFL does with the Super Bowl. Personally, I think this is a bad decision. For 18 seasons, the AFL team with the best record has hosted the championship game and they should, because they’ve earned it. It was a way of rewarding the hometown fans that supported their team all season long.

In 2001, the Grand Rapids Rampage had the best record and hosted the Nashville Kats in Arena Bowl XV in the smallest stadium in the league. The Van Andel Arena held 11,217 for the championship game, the smallest crowd ever for an ArenaBowl. That was also the year that I first became a season ticket holder of the Rampage and I was there for the entire season, including both playoff games and the ArenaBowl. After the Rampage won the game, Commissioner David Baker got up on the stage, presented the trophy and told the delirious home crowd, “Grand Rapids, you ARE a major league city.” It was a magical season I will never forget.

The night before ArenaBowl XV, league owners held a meeting in Grand Rapids and it was there that they voted to award an expansion franchise to Denver. The ownership group included former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, who was in attendance at the ArenaBowl game the next day. What a thrill it was to have the ArenaBowl in Grand Rapids, and televised nationally in ABC as well! Now it seems that that experience may never happen in Grand Rapids again.

Is having the Arena Bowl in a neutral site in the best interest of the fans? Can the average fan in New York afford to get on a plane and fly to Los Angeles on a week’s notice to attend their team’s championship game, if that’s where the Arena Bowl happens to be that year? Or vice versa? The big losers in all this will be the fans and players of the team with the best record. Maybe we need to add a new article to the AFL Fans’ Bill of Rights that says, “We believe that fans of all AFL teams have an equal right of having their team host the ArenaBowl.”

Will the league be fair and rotate the championship game between all the cities in the league? Don’t bet on it. In the NFL, they only award the Super Bowl to warm weather cities, like Jacksonville in 2005, or northern cities with domed stadiums, like Detroit in 2006, since the weather “up north” in January or February is not the best for football. On the other hand, all Arena Football teams play indoors and the championship game takes place in the summer, so no city should be excluded from consideration, right? Think again. I’m sure there are going to be “favorite” cities that the league will keep returning to every few years. Even if they did rotate the game among all the AFL cities, fans will get to see an ArenaBowl about once every 20 years of so, depending on how many teams there are in the league.

I hope it never comes to the point where elite fans and corporate bigwigs will be the only ones able to afford to attend an ArenaBowl game. It makes me shudder to think of AFL cities possibly bidding against each other for hosting rights by having to guarantee a certain number of hotel rooms and/or a certain number of luxury suites, just like the NFL. If it comes to that, then the average fan will truly suffer a terrible loss. Having the ArenaBowl at the best team’s home stadium has been a matter of pride for hometown fans since the beginning. And keep in mind that of the 38 Super Bowls played to date, no NFL team has ever played in their own stadium before their home crowd!

Home field advantage has not been a major factor in the outcome of the ArenaBowls either. The home teams have won 9 and lost 9 of the 18 ArenaBowls, including this year’s game in which San Jose beat Arizona in Arizona.

As a Rampage season ticket holder in 2001, I also had first choice of purchasing extra tickets for all the team’s home playoff games, and even the ArenaBowl, on top of the seats I already owned, even before they were made available to the general public. That was a perk that I appreciated and made good use of. It helped to solidify my love of the entire Arena Football experience.

Over the last few years, AFL franchises have been awarded or moved to several NFL cities, most recently Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Nashville. NFL owners are also buying into AFL teams, but does the league need to fashion itself after the NFL to survive? I say no. Fans have come to love the AFL because it is what it is, a high scoring game where fans are close to the action and can interact with players and coaches after every game. The league has grown steadily since its first season in 1987, when there were only four teams, by being a unique brand of football that is different and exciting to watch. It had a loyal following long before it signed a national television contract with NBC in 2003.

The AFL will never equal or rival the NFL and there’s nothing wrong with that, but moving the ArenaBowl to a neutral site is simply wrong. It is the fans, and especially the season ticket holders, who have made this sport and this league what it is today and they deserve the chance to see their team host the biggest game of the year.


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