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New Arena Football League opens in April, already eyeing expansion

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Arena Football League, reborn under new leadership after folding last year, already is looking to add teams in Philadelphia, Southern California, Denver and Pittsburgh.

AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz said on a conference call Wednesday that the league has held serious negotiations to place teams in those markets beginning with the 2011 season. The Philadelphia Soul won the last AFL title in 2008.

AFL on NFL Network

The new Arena Football League will premiere on NFL Network on Friday, April 2, and will have weekly AFL "Game of the Week" telecasts each Friday throughout the 2010 season. **More ...**

"We are so excited to be talking to the Philadelphia market, and we would love nothing more than for Jon Bon Jovi, Craig Spencer and Ron Jaworski to join our league," Kurz said. "Our ownership has already extended an offer to them to join us.

"No one has done more for the brand of arena football than that collective group."

Kurz said a new group of owners spent $6.1 million for the assets of the defunct Arena Football League, including the name, history and records. It will relaunch in April with 15 teams -- about half of them from the former AFL and the remainder from what used to be known as arenafootball2.

Kurz didn't set out concrete plans for how many teams the AFL eventually hopes to include. There were 17 AFL teams when the league went bankrupt last year, and another 25 participated in af2.

"I think that horizon is open. Our ownership is dedicated to expansion and covering the country," Kurz said. "However, they're also dedicated to bringing in expansion markets and teams as it is appropriate -- when we can make sure that there's great ownership in a city, great community support and it's appropriate -- not just to have teams here and there."

Kurz said the new AFL will follow the model of Major League Soccer in having all players and coaches employed by the league instead of by individual teams in a bid to "correct an economic model that failed." That arrangement will allow the league to collectively seek out such needs as equipment deals and workers' compensation coverage.

"It's power buying, not unlike large chains that do that as well, to capitalize on size and quantity," Kurz said.

All players will be paid a uniform amount, Kurz said, although he kept that figure confidential.

"Control is not a bad word," Kurz said. "Control is a very good word in these challenging economic times."

The AFL already has reached a one-year deal with the NFL Network to broadcast a Friday night game of the week, beginning with Chicago at Iowa on April 2. Kurz said 14 of the 15 teams will be featured during the regular season.

The eight-team playoffs and Arena Bowl, which will be played at the home of the higher seed, also will be televised.

Team owners and executives include former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White.

Former AFL teams that will resume operations include Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Arizona, Utah, Orlando and Tampa Bay. Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Alabama, Bossier-Shreveport, Iowa, Spokane, Jacksonville and Milwaukee will move from af2 into the new league.

"It is essential for all of our teams to be successful in their own markets, of course," Kurz said. "However, all of our teams must be working for the common goal and that is all teams being sustainable in this challenging economic time."

The AFL had been playing its high-scoring brand of indoor football for 22 years before it folded last year. John Elway, Jerry Jones and Bon Jovi provided star power in management roles, and the league gained a bounce in credibility when former Iowa quarterback Kurt Warner went on to lead the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title. Games were eventually shown on NBC and ESPN.

But revenue couldn't keep up with costs, and the 2009 season was canceled before the league announced it was shutting down in August. Plans for the new league surfaced about one month later.

"The thing right now that everybody needs to realize is that there are a lot of sacrifices being made by a lot of people who are counting on this league succeeding and that the future is bright," White said.

"I think 2009, when the history books have been written, may go down as maybe the single most important year in the history of arena football because it was a chance for us to take a little bit of a break, step back. I kind of liken it to the pause that you take when you're shifting gears. ... I think with this model, with an opportunity for the owners to actually make a profit, the sky is the limit for the Arena Football League."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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