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Neutral Site ArenaBowl

by Fran Stuchbury
October 19, 2004 - Arena Football League (1987-2008) (AFL I)

ArenaBowl XIX will be played on a neutral site for the first time ever. The game will take place at the Thomas and Mack Center, Sunday June 12th 2005.

For the past eighteen seasons the ArenaBowl has been played at the highest remaining seed left in the playoffs. The home team always had tremendous fan support but their record was only 9-9.

You can’t blame the league for making this move. Instead of a two-week window to get the ArenaBowl organized, they now have 8 months to get everything planned.

Josh Stein from Ashland, Ohio agrees with the neutral site ArenaBowl. “College Bowl games are neutral site. The Super Bowl is neutral site. The Grey Cup is neutral site. No matter what other sports do, if the AFL wants to be considered as a 'top-notch' football association, its championship game seemingly has to be played at a neutral site.”

Within 30 days the league will have comprehensive travel and event weekend packages available for fans to purchase. Some events that will take place during the week of ArenaBowl are the AFL awards banquet, a concert event and other activities.

ArenaBowl XIXEven so, many fans are not happy about the change to a neutral site game. Dave Boese from Minneapolis, MN is one of them.

“I'm a bit of a traditionalist, I guess. I always thought the idea of the top remaining seed hosting the Championship was great for the league and that team's fans and city. It was an event well worth waiting for. Now it feels like someone else will get your party -- it just doesn't feel right, even without a local team to root for, I'll support the league, neutral site Arena Bowl or not.”

Dallas Desperados fan Kris Carter has a mixed opinion on this issue; "I understand the league trying to accommodate sponsors, and giving supposed big time musical acts time to make plans, but it takes away from a team that has earned home field advantage that they have worked, sweated and bled for, not to mention the fans that did the same right along with them.”

I’ve been to four ArenaBowls (one each in Albany and Arizona, two in Tampa Bay), and the crowds were very loud and enthusiastic. They were into the game the entire time. Now unless Las Vegas gets there, you are going to have a neutral crowd.

It will lack the energy you have seen when the home team hosts the championship. Sure some fans will travel to see their team in the game but not that many because only diehard fans will make last minute plans.

AFL Hall of Fame QB Ben Bennett, who has played in five ArenaBowls, is also is in favor of the home team hosting, but understands the league motives behind making the change.

"I like the old way where the team with the best record is rewarded with the game, but I think that a neutral site can be beneficial in a lot of ways, too,” said Bennett. "It will be a better revenue producer for the league as they will have time to prepare for the game well in advance."

Let’s take a look at the Thomas and Mack Center. The arena was built in 1983 and has 30 luxury box suites, which is perfect for AFL owners and corporate sponsors attending the game because they will have a place to party.

I had the chance to talk to two fans who have been to the Thomas and Mack Center and asked both if the arena is a good place for an AFL game.

Lyn Hughes who traveled with 150 fans from Phoenix Arizona to attend a game March 14th made these comments: “It's an aging, substandard facility. It has very few redeeming qualities. The seating, the sound system, all of it leaves a lot to be desired. It's very sad that the league would find it acceptable as a place to showcase our biggest game.”

Avengers fan Larry Lieberman had these comments: “The arena has some blind spots, and you can't see the corners from the sidelines. Last year when we were there Vegas was going for a TD on the last play of the game that would have tied it, and I was unable to see the play in the corner so it is not the greatest place to see a game. The location of the T & M in Vegas is great. They let you tailgate and have a good time outside the arena.”

I have never been to game at the Thomas and Mack Center, but I will be there for the ArenaBowl and to pass judgment myself.

The Las Vegas Review Journal has reported the league will have the game in Vegas at least three seasons, which doesn’t surprise me because they are making a commitment to the game. One year is not enough to determine if this will be a success.

The problem is that the league is going have to come up with new activities to attract the out of town fan to come to Vegas more than once. I cover the Philadelphia Soul, and unless they get to the game, the appeal of going to Vegas more than once may not be there.

Move the game to different like New Orleans, Orlando, Denver, etc. The only issue is if the ArenaBowl is not successful in Vegas, other cities may not be interested in getting involved.

The league decided to make a change, and whether it is a good or bad move is to be determined. I will find out when I travel to Vegas to cover ArenaBowl XIX.

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Arena Football League (1987-2008) Stories from October 19, 2004


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.


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