Whether this means the end of Arena Football remains to be seen; the league is emphasizing that it is not folding, but other than the NHL (which was certainly more established when they wrote off their 2004-05 season than the AFL is today) I'm hard-pressed to think of any other sports league that has survived after canceling an entire season.
The AFL's owners voted against playing next year during a conference call Sunday night. It was unclear what had changed since the league issued a statement Wednesday night that said the 2009 season had not been suspended "despite rumors and reports to the contrary."
The league said in Monday's statement it was "developing a long-term plan to improve its economic model."
"Every owner in the AFL is strongly committed to the league, the game, and, most importantly, the fans," acting commissioner Ed Policy said in a statement. "Owners, however, recognize that, especially in light of the current unprecedented economic climate, the AFL, as a business enterprise, needs to be restructured if it is to continue to provide its unique brand of this affordable, fan-friendly sport."
I'm sure that some football "purists" out there are gloating about the possible demise of the AFL (not that they were ever forced to watch indoor football, or anything), but the fact is this: however much of a "niche" sport that Arena Football might have been, the fact that its league is canceling an entire season cannot be good news for professional sports in general.
It's not just that another "niche" league, the WNBA, lost one of its premier franchises a couple of weeks ago; it's that, given the current economic situation, even the strongest sports leagues are feeling the pinch: the NHL is in a hiring freeze, and NASCAR, the NFL and the NBA are laying off workers as well. Depending on how bad the nation's economic situation becomes (and 2009, by all accounts, is going to be very, very bad), professional sports in general could be in for a rough ride, as fans become less-inclined to buy expensive tickets and corporate sponsorships dwindle.
I can't say I was a huge fan of Arena Football; I'd watch a few of their games every so often, but never got into it the way I'm into, say, college football. But if I were a professional sports fan, I'd take the cancellation of the AFL's 2009 season very seriously. It could very well be a harbinger of things to come.