Arena Football

As I walked into the arena, I felt the pulse of loud music, I believe it was another song featuring Li’l John yelling “Yeah!” and “What!” over a thumping bass. A cleverly named dance team called the Breeze was dancing in front of the thousands of people already in their seats and the video screens in the arena were featuring videos and wildly colorful shapes. Young people were eagerly awaiting the big event and dressed well enough to impress one another. No, this wasn’t a dance club or a concert, but an Arena Football League 2 game between the Green Bay Blizzard and the Louisville Fire.

There is something uniquely American about a sport like Arena Football. The first thing that draws the eye about the players is that they are wearing advertisements for local and national businesses, including Red Bull, the United States Army, and Ford. Surely, other world sports, like soccer, feature such advertisements, but the Arena Football seems to be far more ubiquitous about advertising than other sports. The sidelines are filled with as many advertisements as one can process from the stands. As well, the sheer speed of the sport, embellished by the shortened field (50 yards) and the lack of a true sideline, excites the fans and makes them feel part of the game. As well, the garish sideshow that arises after every score and between quarters is visually pleasing if not entirely entertaining for discerning fans. The dance team, aptly named the Freeze, helped children participate in games between scores and threw out free t-shirts to fans. Such an approach to sports may lose its entertainment value for discerning fans over the age of 10, but it is still something to behold.

As well, Arena Football’s main league and minor league feature incredibly low salaries in comparison with the regular NFL salaries of several million dollars. Arena Football players only receive around $1600 per game, which is a pittance compared to the average NFL salary of around $2 million dollars a season. Considering this, the fact that AFL 2 players only receive about $15-16,000 per year should make enjoying the game all the more fun. Fans constantly complain about the high salaries of professional athletes and the ranks of amateur sports, including Olympians and youngsters like Freddy Adu, have been filled with endorsement deals. Arena players do play for the slim chance to get to the NFL, but they play more because they love the sport. From what I have read about the Green Bay Blizzard, many of the players work in insurance, auto repair, or office jobs during the day to make their professional sports dreams come true. There is something admirable about this and in blue collar places like Green Bay and Louisville, this type of effort is appreciated.

My AFL 2 experience, like many others who attend the sport in person, was a mixture of high adrenaline and an increasing appreciation for the oddities of the sport. Unlike in the NFL, receivers could run up to the line of scrimmage before play started and linebackers were restricted to an invisible box from which they could defend against the run and pass. These things that separate it from the big leagues are what make it such a great event to partake. It seems that the AFL is focusing on being local, in that it does more marketing than any other less popular professional sports and it focuses on getting fans to connect to players. I think in a world that is increasingly globalized economically but isolated socially, such localized events are sorely needed.

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