This is Probably Just the Beginning

December 15, 2008

The owners of the Arena Football League teams just voted to cancel its 2009 season. The Arena League has been in operation since 1986 and has recently been run in conjunction with ESPN. But the financial realities around the country (and the world) are finally starting to set in with the sports world. A goofy league simply cannot make ends meet in these times and it will be interesting to see what falls next. The WNBA? High school sports? One California district already cut its athletics funding to $0 in order to get under a newly lowered budget.

Obviously the major sports leagues are not going to fail but there might be some difficulties with some of the lower income franchises around. I would say lower market as well but often those are the best supported clubs (ie, the Packers). But will teams like the Pirates or Bengals be able to keep up with the high payrolls going around? And what of the recent CC Sabathia deal, the richest ever for a major league pitcher. Can contracts like that be expected to trickle down to lower-tier free agents, or are those guys going to have to take big cuts? Baseball is the first league to have to deal with this economy fully within this recession so it will be interesting to see what happens with football (up next) and then basketball and hockey getting into next summer.

The other thing to look for is how many corporations have to pull their title sponsorships for arenas and stadia. To my knowledge this has not yet happened, though Citi came really close.

Anyway, while I couldn’t care less about the Arena League and really wouldn’t mind the incessant advertising for it on ESPN stopping, it is sad to see one of the more established, fringe leagues go down. While they’re not breaking up the league for good right now, who knows if it will be able to survive or not. Maybe we’ll see contraction in pro sports, that probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.