The Arizona Rattlers’ 24-season run as an anchor member of the Arena Football League is coming to an end.
The Rattlers, owned by Ron Shurts, announced a move Monday to the Indoor Football League, an operation that was founded in 2008 and is considered the second-highest level of arena football in the country.
The Indoor Football League (IFL) completed their eighth season with 10 teams. Two franchises — the Billings Wolves and the Tri-Cities Fever — have shuttered operations since the completion of the 2016 campaign. The league has announced expansion for 2017 in the form of the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles.
The league’s strongest franchise, the Sioux Falls Storm, just won their sixth consecutive league championship, defeating the Spokane Empire in the United Bowl Championship on July 23.
While things are looking up for the IFL, it’s a much different story for the nation’s oldest indoor league.
The AFL, which started as a four-team league in 1987, has seen its share of hard times. After the 2008 season, during which 17 teams participated in a 16-game schedule, the league shut down for a year to create a long-term plan to improve its economic model.
After a massive restructuring, the Arena Football League returned in 2010, with 15 teams, including many which had participated in AF2, arena football’s “minor league”.
League membership shrunk to eight teams for the 2016 season as the league announced future plans to attract stable NBA and NHL ownership to the outfit. Just before ArenaBowl XXIX in August, in which the Philadelphia Soul defeated the Rattlers for the title, the league welcomed the Washington Valor as an expansion team, and the ninth franchise in the AFL. The team would be owned by Monument Sports and Entertainment — headed by Ted Leonsis — who also owns the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals and the Mystics of the WNBA.
The league’s forward growth was short-lived. The Orlando Predators, a long-standing AFL member (founded in 1991), announced they were ceasing operations earlier this week, citing “the reduced number of teams remaining in the Arena Football League as well as pending disagreements with the League.”
The Jacksonville Sharks, an AFL franchise since 2010, announced last week they were moving to a rival league, and speculation remains that the league will be the IFL.
Several outlets reported last Thursday that the AFL would operate with just four teams — Washington, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Tampa Bay — for the 2017 season. The league has not confirmed this, but did release the following statement Friday morning:
The Arena Football League is focused on solidifying its foundation for the long term and is in active conversations with strong, experienced ownership groups in markets where there is already a pro sports signature in place. The addition of the Washington Valor this coming season provides a solid example of where we are headed. Ultimately, we continue to be focused on positioning and growing the league over the long term to deliver the great game, compelling broadcasts and arena experience our fans have come to expect.
It will be interesting to see what effects a relocation to a new league would have on the Rattlers franchise. Arizona just finished a 13-3 season that ended with a 10th ArenaBowl appearance. The team’s average home attendance figure of 12,943 was by far the highest in the league and their best mark since the 2004 season, when they averaged 13,234 fans per game.