It is pretty obvious why ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, spends so much time talking about one city. It’s the very same reason why this city, Boston, was one of the first media markets to receive it’s own dedicated ESPN affiliated website, ESPNBoston.com. No one is arguing the dramatic presence Boston, the seventh largest media market in the U.S., has in professional sports.
At the very same time, the Arena Football League is trying to rebuild itself from its collapse in 2009. And it certainly has. Its small market teams from the 2010 re-branded AFL have moved for larger markets, as Bossier City, Louisiana moved to New Orleans, and Huntsville, Alabama moved to the Atlanta area in Duluth, Georgia. 2011 saw expansion to Pittsburg and the return of Kansas City, San Jose, and the popular Philadelphia franchise. Which leaves the question, what is the state of the AFL? The answer is better, but certainly not great.
Of the top ten media markets in the U.S., the AFL only has franchises in four of them. The largest market the league currently has a franchise in is Chicago, the third largest market in the U.S. However, this team does not even play in the United Center, Chicago’s major arena. They play at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. Right here is the problem. If the AFL truly wants to make a national presence, it has to do just that, and bring the sport to the nation’s major cities. This is where Boston comes into play.
Boston not only has the demand, a market starving for football, but also has the right venue. The TD Garden would be a perfect fit for arena football. We've seen an indoor sport such as lacrosse at the Garden as recently as this past winter, when the Boston Blazers of the National Lacrosse League played their third season in the arena.
With Boston's major sports media outlets of NESN, CSN, WEEI, and 98.5 FM, there would be no shortage of potential broadcasting deals for both television and radio. The most recent AFL franchise in New England was located in Hartford in 2000, when Fox Sports Net New England carried some of the team's games on television. The New England Sea Wolves played in the Hartford Civic Center from 1999 to 2000.
As the AFL's improved business model matures, this creates an excellent opportunity for a large market such as Boston to get involved. There has already been serious consideration from both the league and local investors. It is in the best interest for the league that a franchise is landed here. The AFL should not, and can not, continue to ignore a market as significant as Boston.
Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arena Football League's Lack of Large Market Presence - Top 10 U.S. Media Markets:
1. New York
2. Los Angeles
5. Dallas-Ft. Worth
6. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose*
8. Washington, DC
* Markets with current Arena Football League franchises