Could Iowa Get a New Football Team in 2024?
Two things shocked the football landscape on February 1st, 2023. The first was Tom Brady taking to social media to announce his retirement after 23 seasons in the NFL. The second was the Arena Football League announcing its plans for a return in 2024, following its closure in 2019.
The Arena Football League (AFL) was an indoor football league that began all the way back in 1986 and had a fruitful run for much of its life. Financial troubles and bankruptcy ultimately led to its collapse (and if not for that, the COVID-19 pandemic likely would've been the death-nail). No less, it was a thrilling night out for families who didn't want to/couldn't break the bank for an NFL game.
Growing up in Chicago, my dad and I attended several Chicago Rush games when I was little. I didn't appreciate them like I would now, being a die-hard football fan. But the AFL's return got me mulling over the thought of Iowa getting another professional football team.
Most people remember the Iowa Barnstormers of the AFL, if for no other reason than it served as a launchpad for Kurt Warner to elbow his way into the NFL, win a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP. Some (such as myself) might not even know the Barnstormers still exist today. They're part of the Indoor Football League (IFL) and play at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, IA.
The Arena Football League announced that 16 teams will play a 10-game season in 2024, followed by a postseason format to be determined. 16 teams is a ton. By comparison, the recently rebooted United States Football League (USFL) and the upcoming third iteration of the XFL have half that number. Even the beleaguered Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2019 couldn't financially support eight.
Prior to its demise, the AFL had sustained presence in cities such as Albany (NY), Atlantic City, Baltimore, Columbus (OH), Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. 16 teams means the league would almost certainly need to look at comparatively smaller cities, such as San Antonio, St. Louis, and Des Moines to fill their cumulative roster.
In a press release, AFL President Anthony Rossi stated that the AFL would be modernized in such a way that would incorporate streaming and various other elements into watching games:
We envisioned executing on the old saying ‘Bigger and Better,’ but this time, we want to incorporate the components of a modern-day business – streaming, betting, technology, virtual reality, and immerse fan engagement mixed with good old-fashioned iron-man football.
Time will tell if the AFL makes a comeback in the Hawkeye State. As someone who pays attention to leagues like the AAF, USFL, and XFL, I always scoffed at their desire to court large markets that are already bleeding with sports teams (Los Angeles, Washington D.C., etc). I get the financial draw, but I don't understand the long-term viability of, say, the Los Angeles Wildcats when the City of Angels already has two of everything, including NBA and NFL franchises.
I think Des Moines or Cedar Rapids would happily accommodate an arena football team. I'm already emotionally invested, so I hope the AFL doesn't disappoint by not including smaller cities or at least have the financial solvency to remain in business for years to come.