Arena Football League Officially Gone

The Arena Football League has shut down, this time indefinitely.

The league, which previously called off play for the 2009 season but had said it planned to return in 2010, sent a terse, one-paragraph statement to its teams late Tuesday announcing it had suspended operations.

The statement said the AFL’s board had been “unable to reach any consensus on restructuring the league over the past eight months.”

The 22-year-old indoor league had lost its commissioner and two teams since the end of last season. It reached a new agreement with its players this year, but that wasn’t sufficient to persuade enough AFL owners that the league could return to profitability.

The AFL’s board said “there are no other viable options available to the league right now.”

The league is likely to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

“I’ve always thought the game was an attractive game, but we all know when you get the kind of pressure we’re in, in these economic times, and then you have an economic model that really doesn’t work, then it’s not surprising to see it stop play,” said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who also owned the AFL’s Dallas Desperadoes.

Jones, Super Bowl winner John Elway and rock star Jon Bon Jovi were among the marquee names with a financial stake in AFL teams.

Former NFL MVP Kurt Warner threw touchdown passes on the AFL’s 50-yard fields before throwing them in Super Bowls. And the high-scoring games helped the league find a niche in small markets like Grand Rapids, Mich., to major ones like Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Soul, co-owned by Bon Jovi, were the last ArenaBowl champions in 2008. Craig Spencer, another Soul co-owner, said on Wednesday the team stands by the league statement.

David Baker abruptly resigned as league commissioner two days before the 2008 ArenaBowl championship game. Owners did not look for a replacement.

ESPN, which owns a small equity share in the league, said it is not involved in management of the AFL. The network said Tuesday its broadcast agreement with the league had been terminated.

Some AFL owners remain optimistic that the league can return in some form in 2010, perhaps in conjunction with the af2 league, an AFL offshoot that remains in business.

“We’re hopeful things will work out here in San Jose,” SaberCats vice president Hank Stern said.

The league still faces numerous legal issues. The owners could file for bankruptcy, but most players and coaches who were not paid salaries or roster bonus money in 2009 are looking to recoup that cash, according to Richard Berthelsen of the NFL Players Association.

Berthelsen assisted the AFL players union the past season and said there are several unresolved issues.

“I don’t want anybody to think that because the league has made the announcement that they did, the players are just going to go away,” he said by phone Wednesday

AFL owners could not agree on long-term structural improvements that would keep the league profitable.

A disagreement among owners about whether to bring in a private equity firm to invest in the league became a major sticking point in December.

“As with any league that is underfinanced and is competing for television time, there are differing views on how to make that succeed,” Berthelsen said. “The players did everything they needed to, and then some, so that the league could survive. They were saying if player costs is the difference between surviving and not surviving, let’s see if we can do something that would allow the league to survive.”

Soul coach Bret Munsey accepted a buyout from the organization and took a job with the upstart United Football League. Munsey said he met with Bon Jovi in January, and the rocker told him he was confident the league would find a way to improve financially and find stability for the long haul.

For whatever reasons, there were no easy solutions.

Munsey wears his ArenaBowl championship ring as a reminder of just how fun the AFL was for him.

“I’m very proud of that,” he said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen too often.”

And it doesn’t look like the Soul will get a chance to defend that title.