Welcome to the Indoor and Arena Football history site. Ever since former USFL team executive Jim Foster first sketched out the idea for playing football in basketball and hockey arenas more than two decades ago, the indoor game has seen tremendous growth from just four Arena Football League teams in 1987 to dozens of franchises in several leagues across the country today. The growth has not been without casualties, however, and this site is dedicated to all the franchises that contributed to the growth, but have since ceased operations, as well as to their displaced fans.
The Arena Football League kicked off in 1987 with four teams playing on the fledgling ESPN cable network. AFL squads competed on a 50-yard field, roughly one-fourth the size of its full-size counterpart, and employed giant rebound nets on either side of the field goal posts to keep the ball in play. After a tumultuous period in 1988 and 1989, which nearly saw the league fold several times, the AFL grew steadily to a national league with regularly televised games and millions of fans. Outside of the National Football League, it was the longest running professional football league in the nation before declaring bankruptcy in 2009. The league was re-established with 15 teams in 2010 after its assets were purchased out of bankruptcy.
In 1998, semipro football administrator Dick Suess, noting the success of the AFL, launched the Professional Indoor Football League, the first indoor alternative to the Arena League. The PIFL struggled through its first season but survived. The league changed its name to the Indoor Professional Football League (IPFL) in 1999 under new commissioner Mike Storen. Because the Arena Football League patented its game system, the league and all its indoor successors were prohibited from using the endzone rebound nets. Two other leagues, the Indoor Football League and National Indoor Football League, were formed by owners of PIFL/IPFL teams.
One casualty of the PIFL's inaugural season was Keary Ecklund, co-owner of the Green Bay Bombers and Madison Mad Dogs franchises. Reasoning that he could run a league better than the PIFL had been operated, he took his teams and formed his own Midwest league - the Indoor Football League. It lasted for two seasons and grew from eight original franchises to 20 teams. Ecklund owned most of the teams, with only the Lincoln Lightning and half the Topeka franchise having outside ownership. Disagreements with how the Topeka team was being run eventually resulted in Ecklund taking full control of that franchise as well.
Next to announce its formation was the Xtreme Football League. Birmingham sports entrepreneur Art Clarkson recruited owners from East Coast Hockey League teams in the Southeast to fill what was planned to be a 10-12 team league. The idea was to cut costs by sharing front office staffs with the hockey franchises. On July 29, 1999 the nine XFL teams joined forces with the fledgling arenafootball2, spelling the end of Clarkson's venture. He didn't leave the business, however, as he remained the owner of af2's Tennessee Valley Vipers of Huntsville, Alabama.
The AFL saw the growth of the indoor game in mid-sized markets and countered with its own minor league, arenafootball2. With the growing AFL behind it, af2 bought out the upstart Southeast-based Xtreme Football League (no relation to the WWE outdoor league) and launched in 2000 with 16 teams. Like its parent league, af2 used the endzone rebound nets, a patented feature of Arena Football play. Orlando Predators Entertainment bought out the IFL in 2001, and af2 absorbed a handful of IFL markets. When the Arena Football League declared bankruptcy in 2009, af2 owners elected not to continue the league, with surviving teams joining the new AFL and the Indoor Football League.
Meanwhile, some IPFL team owners, including original member Carolyn Shiver, became disenchanted with the league and struck off on their own to form the National Indoor Football League in 2000. Its lineup changed frequently through the years, and it both absorbed teams from and lost teams to other leagues. Rocked by mass defections in 2004, 2005 and 2006, the NIFL attempted to play a 2007 season with a handful of returning teams and more than a dozen league-owned franchises. The disastrous campaign proved to be its last.
In 2004, the new six-team Intense Football League set up shop in the Texas cities of Amarillo, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Lubbock, Odessa and San Angelo. Following the season, the Amarillo Dusters left for af2, and the NIFL absorbed four of the remaining teams, seemingly spelling the end of the IFL. After one season, the IFL was re-formed with Corpus Christi, San Angelo and Odessa joining one other NIFL franchise and new teams in Texas and Louisiana. In 2008, the Intense League merged with United Indoor Football to form the new Indoor Football League.
The following season, another upstart, the Atlantic Indoor Football League (renamed the American Indoor Football League following their first season), took the field with six teams, including two traveling squads. The circuit expanded to 16 teams in its second year, but several franchises were wracked with financial instability. Several teams left for alternate leagues following the season, including the upstart World Indoor Football League and Continental Indoor Football League, and the American Indoor Football Association was formed from the remaining squads.
Also in 2005, a group of 10 owners from the National Indoor Football League and two from arenafootball2 broke away from their respective leagues to form their own circuit, United Indoor Football. Dayton, the only new franchise in the league, was dropped just prior to the season opener and rejoined the NIFL, giving UIF 11 teams for its inaugural season. The league added a pair of Illinois franchises in 2006 and two more NIFL defectors for 2007. Following the 2008 campaign, UIF joined with the Intense Football League to form the new Indoor Football League.
The Great Lakes Indoor Football League announced its formation the following season, targeting smaller markets in the Midwest. Starting with six teams, including one traveling squad, the league announced plans to grow to 14 teams in 2006. The circuit's expanded geographic footprint, now stretching from Illinois to the East Coast necessitated a name change, and the GLIFL became the Continental Indoor Football League.
Former AIFL and NIFL team owners formed the World Indoor Football League for the 2007 season. Originally slated to have as many as eight member teams, the Huntington Heroes and Charleston instead rejoined the AIFA and the owner of the Rome (Georgia) and Raleigh (NC) frachises bowed out, leaving the WIFL with four for its first and only season. When the Daytona Beach membership left for arenafootball2, the league dissolved.
The new Indoor Football League, largely a product of a merger between the Intense Football League and United Indoor Football along with three former CIFL teams, began play in 2009 with 17 teams. The following season the league expanded to 25 teams stretching coast to coast and up to Alaska, making it the largest of the indoor circuits.
The owner of the Louisiana Swashbucklers, an Intense Football League team which briefly joined the Indoor Football League, established the Southern Indoor Football League for the 2009 season. With teams concentrated in Texas and Louisiana in 2009, the league branched out in the South in 2010, adding franchises in South Carolina and Georgia.