by Mike Vergane
May 8, 2000 - arenafootball2 (af2)
The Jim Foster Interview
by Mike Vergane
This is part one of a two-part interview with the founder of Arena Football, Jim Foster. In part one, the current Iowa Barnstormer and Quad City Steamwheeler owner talks about the health of the af2, the future of the league and expansion plans.
MIKE VERGANE- Talk about your impressions of the league after it's first month of play.
JIM FOSTER- "Overall, I'm very pleased with what's happening in the af2. As the co-founder of the league, it's something that I envisioned way back when I started Arena Football that eventually the time would come that there would be a chance to build a second league that would tier down into smaller markets. If you look around the US and Canada, there are a lot of cities that have an arena. From my experiences in playing semi-pro football, it occured to me that if we could get Arena Football workng at the larger market that we might be able to get it into the smaller and mid-size markets and make it viable. And instead of playing at the community's local high school stadium, you are playing in their arena. I think it has a much higher perceived credibility. That's where concerts are performed. That's where the circus comes. People don't look at a high school stadium the same way, so why would a pro team play in a high school?"
This is one of the reasons the af2 is working. For the first time a community can have a professional football team and feel like it's professional because it is playing in an arena. But you still have to have a good product and market it well."
MIKE VERGANE- Talk about how your entry, the Quad City Steamwheelers, has done so far.
JIM FOSTER- "Frank Haege (Head Coach) is doing a great job. Given his 6 years of coaching in the AFL, I had a lot of confidence in hiring him. He understands the personnel needs are different than in the outdoor game. He understands the strategy of coaching in the game. One of the big mistakes you see in the AFL is a coach coming in from the outdoor game, trying to coach in elements of the outdoor game that don't work properly. They try to run the football in scenarios where it's not smart to run it. They try to teach blocking schemes that don't work with 3 down linemen. There are a lot of things a coach has to learn, and Frank understands that."
"Frank has brought in a lot of good players and they play well as a unit. I feel good about our on-field product and we have worked very hard to put together a first class marketing program. I give the Mallards (Quad Cities UHL franchise) a lot of credit. They've done a great job in terms of "raising the bar" of professionalism. You can't come in here as a new pro team and be mediocre and expect to succeed. We have to measure up. But that is the way I want to do business, anyway."
"When I look at our situation here in the Quad Cities, we have a good front office staff and they work very hard. We have tried to do some innovative things with our logo and uniform design. When people see our uniforms, be it in Des Moines or in the Quad Cities, they'll see similarities. In Des Moines we have the goggles on the helmet. Here we have the twin smoke stacks. There are similarities in my marketing madness! And of course our color schemes are similar."
MIKE VERGANE- Looking at your af2 expansion map, the first thing that jumps out at you is that there are IFL teams in some of the cities that you target.
JIM FOSTER- The IFL is kind out like rabbits. They just keep multiplying. The IFL is a semi-pro league for all practical purposes. They can't play Arena Football - they can't put nets up. They can't rebound the ball off the nets because Arena Football is a patented game. They can only work around the edges. Because they are semi-pro and the way they operate in that league with one guy dropping franchises into any place he can, I think they are going to have problems with finances.
"The concept of owning all of the teams is something that I did first. It's called 'single entity status'. Keary Ecklund had applied for an Arena Football franchise in 1996 at an owners meeting in Des Moines and was denied. He wanted to put a franchise in Green Bay in a very small arena, and quite frankly we did him a favor. Because had he gone into Green Bay, he would be losing his shirt by now. You can't operate in small arenas in the AFL. So Keary went out and started the IFL, and primarily focused on smaller markets. And there is a niche for that. I do think that some of the markets he is in make sense for the af2 but not all of them."
MIKE VERGANE- Do you see expansion working it's way into the midwest?
JIM FOSTER- "We hold the rights to Omaha. We hold the rights to Cedar Rapids (Iowa) which might make some sense as a combo franchise with Waterloo. When we started af2, the Quad Cities was the anchor franchise in the midwest. The ideal league is one where you can bus to a majority of your games. Which is the case for a lot of the teams in the Southeast. We decided to go ahead with the Quad Cities as the anchor team in the midwest becuase I knew we could make it work. The league decided to help us subsidize our flying costs."
"So as we go forward in the next few years in the af2, one of the focuses is to get more teams in the midwest. I think that there are a couple of markets in Michigan and Indiana that make sense. Louisville is another possibility, and there are a couple of markets in Ohio, too. And Ohio bridges you back into the East. There is a new arena being built outside of Memphis which is being looked at by the league. We found that 'The Pyramid' is not a great location to work for Arena Football in the summer months."
MIKE VERGANE- Have the 3 new teams (Ft. Myers, Shreveport and Layfayette) been assigned to a conference yet?
JIM FOSTER- "Not yet. It's conceivable you could see an extra division or two in 2001. There are quite a few teams that would like to get in next year."
Note: Next week in the second part of "The Jim Foster Interview", Jim Foster talks about the officiating problems experienced so far. The superb coverage by TNN, and the struggle to get coverage by the major media.
Mike Vergane writes his af2 column on a weekly basis for OurSports. He has covered college football for local and national radio since 1995.