How Ted Leonsis Can Save The Arena Football League

Click here to get the latest on all pro leagues and open tryout information!

Sign up, get scouted and start your pro career!

WASHINGTON — Seven years ago, 18 teams competed in the Arena Football League. Today, you can count them all on one hand.

Ted Leonsis owns half of the teams scheduled to compete in 2018. He has likely already saved the league once, and if it survives, he’ll be the one that led it out of the darkness.

“The Arena Football League is what I call a ‘fallen angel,’” Leonsis wrote on his blog. “It expanded too rapidly to too many uncommitted ownership groups.”

In early 2016, Leonsis, who also owns the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Capital One Arena, unveiled his DC AFL team to open play in 2017.

LA KISS owner Gene Simmons spoke alongside Ted at the press conference. “It’s the best time you’ll have — with your pants on.”

Seven months later, the LA KISS would cease to exist.

“They didn’t have a lot of experience,” AFL’s commissioner told SI, “when the guitars stop playing and the ball kicks off, now you’re running a football team and that’s a different business.”

Shrunk to just four teams, Leonsis doubled down and opened a second team in Baltimore.

What does he see in this league that the rest of us don’t?

“I am trying to build the most important, most influential regional sports and entertainment set of franchises in the world,” he told the Washington Post in 2016. “That’s my goal.”

“The league was really starting to present itself as a hotbed for experimentation for operators and teams in the major four leagues,” said Zach Leonsis, Ted’s son and SVP of Monumental Sports & Entertainment.

Just within its inaugural season, Monumental has grown an OTT platform to stream the games, created a mobile app for viewers to watch isolated broadcast camera angles, and has implemented point-of-view “hat cams” worn by coaches and referees.

OTT Network

Both teams’ AFL games stream live through online subscriptions to the Monumental Sports Network, an OTT service. In its first year of existence, Monumental topped 500 hours of content, including live and pre-produced original video from all of its sports properties.

Subscribers benefit from perks like discounts at the team store and private events like free skating with Capitals players and a training session with the WNBA’s Elena Delle Donne.

A subscription costs $9.99 per month, and Monumental hopes to attract millennial cord-cutters and redefine the traditional cable bundle and regional sports network. It’s the same crowd they’re targeting at AFL games.

Monumental exchanged proportional equity stakes with Comcast-owned RSN NBC Washington, which already airs Caps and Wizards games.

“There are things we want to experiment with first at the OTT level…” Zach said, who is also the GM of Monumental Sports Network.

He wouldn’t elaborate much, but with MLS newcomer LAFC announcing exclusive matches to stream on YouTube, Monumental certainly has an eye on how its NBA and NHL properties might fit into an online bundle.

The arena league also brings hours of additional content to the network over the summer months. Monumental developed two episodic Hard Knocks-esque series that provided behind-the-scenes access into the inception of both teams.

“It was full exposure — everything we do,” said Valor head coach Dean Cokinos, an AFL veteran who’s bounced around a handful of teams in his career. “It’s very important we grow the brand.”

Get The Latest Sports Tech News In Your Inbox!

Hat Cams

Monumental is the first major client of ActionStreamer, a startup that created a wearable camera small and lightweight enough to unobtrusively attach to the bill of baseball cap.

“We’re trying to do things that have never been done before,” said Dhani Jones, ActionStreamer’s co-founder and a former NFL linebacker.

ActionStreamer is far from the first game-worn camera to make it into a broadcast, but the startup is hoping it will be one of the first that sticks.

Its uniqueness lies in the backend infrastructure football fans will never see. ActionStreamer’s patented process creates a network that routes the RF video signal wirelessly from the camera to antennae around the venue, which are then wired back to the broadcast unit or control room to be integrated into the broadcast.

It’s designed to operate in venues where available bandwidth is a scarcity.

The hat cams are a stop on ActionStreamer’s roadmap to one day get its camera inside a helmet.

The Future

Just since November, the AFL has lost two more teams for its upcoming season — a brutal reminder that its troubles are far from over. Monumental remains committed to seeking high-quality NBA and NHL operators to add to the league.

“All trees don’t grow directly to heaven,” Ted Leonsis had written.

“In time it will expand and will grow and we will be pioneers in this restart of the league.”

This post originally appeared on Sport Techie Copyright 2018.

Posted in News