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Ted Leonsis is reportedly bringing an Arena Football League team to D.C. Oddly, this makes me very happy.
The addition of another football squad to the crowded D.C. sports landscape might seem pretty minor—at best another team that doesn’t receive as much attention and support as they deserve, even if they are successful. (Love you, Kastles and United!) But I think an Arena Football team, especially one owned by Leonsis and folded into his Monumental Sports enterprise alongside the Caps and Wiz, could be very different. Here are are six reasons why.
1) First and foremost, Arena Football is football. That alone makes it an easier sell than tennis or even soccer. It may be slightly weird football, played on a 50-yard field with eight guys on a side, with rebound nets around the skinny goalposts and with an offensive player moving toward the line of scrimmage before a snap, but it is football. And people love football.
2) It’s a markedly cheaper football experience, especially if you’re bringing a family. I was, until very recently, pretty convinced that I hated live sporting events, burned out on recreational attendance by three years of covering every Pigskins game, home and road. What changed my mind was a multi-family outing to see the Frederick Keys play. Turns out that what I hate is spending a ton of money for a worse view of something that I could enjoy perfectly fine—and more or less for free—on TV. At minor-league prices and with minor-league sightlines, live sports are a genuinely fun family excursion.
3) It’s a markedly better game-day experience than the NFL offers. I’ve only been to one Arena League game, years ago when I lived in Colorado. (I suspect I would’ve gone to more had I not hauled ass back east as soon as I earned my degree.) But even that one game pointed out a few deficits in the NFL game-day experience that I might not otherwise have thought of: The half-size field, for example, provided better views of the action throughout the game. The in-game hype made much more sense in a 20,000-person arena than a 79,000-person stadium. And, most of all, there was an ineffable but very real sense that this was a football league that was actually excited that you attended their game. That counts for something, too.
4) Access should be better, if only because it is almost impossible for it to be worse. Mocking the parking and egress nightmare at FedExField is the 2016 equivalent of observational comedy about airplane peanuts: I’ll just assume we all agree on how horrible it is. These games are expected to be played at Verizon Center, which sits literally on top of a Metro line and is easy walking distance from actual bars and restaurants if you need to kill an hour or two. But even if the games aren’t played at Verizon, I cannot imagine Leonsis picking a spot that’s out past the wasteland of a mall in some distant suburb. (This was another thing that was great about that Keys game: You pull off the highway, into the parking lot, park your car like you’re at a slightly crowded shopping center, and that’s that. Minor league stuff is the best.)
5) It’s a chance to start clean. Me railing against nostalgia in sports is second only to the FedExField parking lots in the airplane peanuts 2016 sweepstakes, but it has to be said: There’s something very appealing about the idea of rooting for a football team without someone else yapping on forever about how much better it was in some previous era—without having to nurse weird, ancient grudges for this player or that coach. For, basically, getting to create new memories rather than smudged mimeographs of old ones.
6) The name thing. As part of the above, this should be a chance to watch football without the weight of the cultural implications of the team’s name. (Whether you want it changed or not, there’s no denying that it’s become part of the conversation around that other football team.) Although if I’m being totally honest, I hope that they’re named the Bullets, even though that name was deemed inappropriate once as well. “Your Washington Football Bullets” needs to happen.
Basically, this team can’t get here soon enough. And then, within three weeks of arrival, I will almost certainly wind up writing about how they’re cursed.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @matt_terl.
Photo by Fatcat125 / Wikimedia CC 3.0