by Jay Luster
At the end of the 2017 IFL season, the Spokane Shock announced they were folding the franchise. A few weeks later I learned one of their former owner’s, Brady Nelson, was doing some consultant work with the Richmond Roughriders. Nelson wasn’t with the Shock when they folded, he had departed several seasons earlier, but with his knowledge of arena football and the AFL, in particular, it seemed he would be an interesting interview. He wasn’t just a little interesting, he blew me away with his knowledge and insight into the league and why they’re struggling. On the heels of the Jeff Bouchy: State of Arena Football interview, Nelson is the perfect follow up. Thanks for reading.
AF Insider: Hi Brady, thanks for agreeing to speak with me. You were the owner of the Spokane Shock but sold the team a few seasons ago. Why did you decide to sell the Shock?
Brady Nelson: The Shock started in AF2 and then went into the AFL in 2010. I sold the team at the end of the 2013 season. I bought the franchise when I was 27 and built it up. In my personal opinion, I love the game, I think arena football is great and if AF2 had been able to stick around we would have been happy to remain there. We had a great following and were sold out for eight consecutive seasons, every game, every seat. The AFL was heading in an unsustainable direction and I didn’t find enjoyment in it anymore. I wanted to look for something else and somebody wanted to buy it so it worked out for everybody.
AF Insider: What happened that made it unsustainable?
Brady Nelson: The AFL filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and there was uncertainty about ownership of the trademarks. Our trademarks were going to get swallowed up in bankruptcy, so most of the AF2 teams had to team up and then buy their names and trademarks from the bankruptcy court. Half the teams in the AFL wanted to shut down permanently, buy their names and trademarks and bury them. Because of the uncertainty, a handful of AFL owners, and all the AF2 owners joined the bidding and bought the names and trademarks back with the idea of relaunching the AFL and AF2. In order for that to happen the old AF2 had to go away because it was now owned by a bankrupt entity. We launched AF1 and the initial concept was to have two tiers, AFL, and a new AF2. In the process of that, we lost several AF2 teams. They either shut down or moved to a different league. At one point, Doug MacGregor owned like nine or ten franchises and when he decided not to keep them going it hurt the league.
AF Insider: Yes it did. Now there are now only four teams left.
Brady Nelson: Yes, the AFL is a shell of what it used to be. There were a couple of major things, in my opinion, that was the cause of the demise. For one, medical costs, to treat the players correctly, are a big deal and when the NFL had their big $450 million concussion settlement you couldn’t get insurance anymore for football. We had to self-insure and that meant our premiums were dramatic. For every dollar of player salary, the self-insurance costs skyrocketed.
AF Insider: So you bought back your trademark and logo and, even without MacGregor’s teams and the league went forward. What happened next?
Brady Nelson: From there 2010 launched pretty well, 2011 was a good building year and then 2012 we added more teams and that’s when organized labor came in and attempted to bargain for the players. That was, in my opinion, the beginning of the end right there.
AF Insider: That was the beginning of the end for the teams in the new AFL, but why did the AFL end up in bankruptcy court, to begin with?
Brady Nelson: The old AFL was not profitable. They may have had better revenue because they were in bigger markets, but they were losing money, every single team. They shut their doors because they couldn’t make it work. They wanted to restructure, reorganize. AF1 was an attempt to operate arena football at a level where you could make a profit, whereas the old AFL, which some people see as the glory days, was unsustainable and the heavy heavy losses were unsustainable.
AF Insider: So many teams gone, Orlando, Tampa, Spokane, LA, San Jose, Portland, New Orleans etc. Now there are 2 owners running 4 teams and those teams are losing money?
Brady Nelson: Correct
AF Insider: With that little participation, and everyone losing money, it’s hardly a league at all, so what’s the purpose? Continue reading