Stop it. Seriously, just stop it. You’re wasting your time and your money, and we don’t care.
Sure, Arena Football somehow managed to convince ESPN to get its back, and that counts for something. (I think.) But what about all you little trifling leagues below Arena Football — your NIFL, your AIFA, your WIFL, your Intense Football League, and so on? The only thing intense about these leagues is the apathy they generate among football fans.
It’s been only a few years since Arena Football has managed to remind people that it still exists, but all these other leagues have still popped up to try and reinvent the wheel. For what purpose? To develop talent for AF2? To make money? Have you seen how some of these leagues operate? NIFL franchises fold faster than the Houston Texans’ offensive line when facing a zone blitz. And don’t even get me started on that whole deal with the AIFL and the Richmond Bandits.
You want to know why all these indoor football leagues are destined to fail, aside from typically shady business practices?
For one thing, too many leagues are trying to be national leagues. They don’t stay within a particular region, and as a result, team travel costs rarely ever outpace ticket sales. Clubs can’t meet travel costs and close their doors in the middle of the season, forcing the league to field replacement teams that lose 105-6, turning the whole operation into a laughingstock.
For another, these leagues are promoting the wrong kind of football. You want to make a splash in indoor football? Dump that lame-ass 50-yard gridiron. Here’s the code for you: futsal.
I already know what your thinking. “Dave, what the hell is futsal?”
(The answer is after the jump.)
Futsal (short for the Portuguese futebol de salão, or “court football”) is the official FIFA-sanctioned indoor soccer game. It’s a five-on-five game played on a court slightly bigger than a basketball court. Unlike other indoor soccer games, there are no boards around the playing field, so players have to work that much harder on their footwork.
In fact, footwork and ball-handling are the primary emphasis of futsal. Some of the best soccer players on the planet have used futsal to improve their footwork. Zinedine Zidane plays futsal. Ronaldinho plays futsal. You could probably compile a long list of soccer stars who have played and/or still play futsal.
There’s marketing point number one for you. What has your indoor gridiron game produced that can compare to Zidane and Ronaldinho? Kurt Warner and Tommy Maddox? Please.
That’s not the only marketing advantage a pro futsal league would have. Indoor football has been done before and is barely interesting at the AFL level. Futsal, which only exists in this country as an amateur and demonstration sport right now, is an international game that would be unique in America. A pro futsal league wouldn’t have to fight with other leagues — short of maybe MISL, which is a very different game that’s about as compelling to watch on TV as a Ben Affleck instructional video — to establish clubs in major cities, many of which are filled with soccer moms shuttling their kids to and from youth soccer games in the suburbs.
Speaking of which, did you know there are 3,000,000 kids in America playing youth soccer, and 300,000 adults coaching them? Sounds like a ready-made audience worth tapping, doesn’t it? I mean, if you show kids a group of guys with footwork anywhere near this…
…can you say, “repeat customers,” boys and girls?
Add to that the financial savings. A futsal league would have fewer expenses than an indoor football league. Sure, the playing surface would cost about the same, but a futsal club wouldn’t have to buy helmets and shoulder pads, and they wouldn’t have to pay quite as many players, either. Indoor football rosters carry about 20 players. A futsal club roster only needs about 12.
What’s more, because futsal is an established FIFA code, you could organize matches between your clubs and futsal clubs from all over the world — Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Russia, you name it. Can you do that with your current indoor football leagues?
Futsal is a good developmental sport for footballers, too, which would make a pro futsal league an excellent training ground for future stars. Clubs could attract young talent, develop it, and then sell their contracts to teams in… well, just about any country on the planet, really. Soccer contracts get bought and sold all the time. It’s the nature of the game, not to mention a Mark Cuban-approved business strategy. Is the NFL rushing to buy your players’ contracts right now? How about the CFL? The Arena League? I didn’t think so.
Put a pro futsal league out there and market it well, and you can establish relationships with MLS, United Soccer Leagues, and maybe even Fox Soccer Channel, all of whom are doing everything they can to make the Association game succeed in America. That’s a nice big support network that doesn’t exist with indoor football. Hell, FSC would probably be glad for the extra programming. You think Friday Night Futsal wouldn’t appeal to that network? What are they showing on Friday nights now? Dream Team reruns? David Beckham instructional videos? This Week in A.C. Milan? Gripping stuff.
A couple of other tips for you:
Don’t try to create a national futsal league right off the bat. Travel costs will eat a team’s budget whole. Keep your league to a specific region, and don’t be afraid to let others create regional leagues. If you get enough regional leagues going successfully, you can all create a champions league and hype it like crazy. It’s a nice grass-roots approach to a new sport, and your core Euro-soccer-crazed audience (not to mention the soccer bloggers) would eat it up like a bowl of gelato.
And please, please, think about using the Internet for once. Do you know how hot Internet video is right now? It doesn’t cost that much to slap together a highlight reel and upload it to YouTube. If that doesn’t sound good, put a futsal show on Blip.TV, and you can automatically make it a podcast and sell some ads around it. Hell, upload entire matches to Google Video. The National Hockey League already does. Why don’t you?
America is ready for some Association football, and futsal would fit right in with that demand. What’s demand looking like for your cheap-ass Arena Football clones? Here, let me show you:
I took that pic at an AIFL game. I probably could have taken five more just like it in different parts of the arena. I’m pretty sure others could do the same.
Seriously, I’m giving you a million-dollar idea here, and I’m not even charging you for it. Just think about it, okay?