WASHINGTON — Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis backed up his commitment to the Arena Football League when he agreed to launch two teams. Now just sixteen months after the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade played their first games, Leonsis is about to celebrate a title.
The Valor and Brigade will play in the 2018 Arena Bowl 7 p.m. Saturday night at Royal Farms Arena in downtown Baltimore.
“It’s one of the rare times in sports I can sit back and say I can’t lose because we own both teams,” Leonsis said. “We are very, very focused helping to restart and re-imagine what the Arena Football League can be.”
Arena Football is not new. The concept of a football game played indoors on a 50-yard field originated on the back of a napkin while former Bears executive Jim Foster was watching an indoor soccer game in 1981 at Madison Square Garden.
Foster did not launch the Arena Football League until 1987, after the United States Football League, an outdoor rival to the NFL, folded. It was a four-team league in 1987 and Washington had a team called the Commandos that played at the old Capital Centre.
The Arena Football League has made its mark on the American landscape and even spawned other indoor football leagues. Ten years ago the Arena Football League had 17 teams and averaged close to 13,000 fans per game.
The Valor and Brigade now make up two of the only four teams in the current league lineup, but Leonsis is convinced the time is right for the Arena Football League to have a renaissance.
“We want to connect with the next generation of fan. The younger fan’s attention span is short. They like lots of scoring. My view is the traditional game of football in three hours literally has only ten or twelve minutes of live action. Arena Football really feels like a live video game.”
Players in the Arena Football League are not paid big money, but that does not diminish their commitment. The Brigade and Valor were the third and fourth place teams in the league, but they found a way to prevail when it mattered most in the playoffs.
“The players are just in love with the game and competition,” he said. “Some are still trying to be seen by NFL teams. All of those players have their own story and they deserve our respect and gratitude for keeping this game going.”