Scott Butera doesn’t want the Arena Football League to survive. It’s done that on its own since 1987.
The first-year commissioner’s mission is to make the AFL thrive. To do this, Butera left his CEO position at Foxwoods Resort Casino after watching his first Arena game a few years ago.
Why would Butera leave a game in which the house almost always wins to take on a revolving-door league that’s seen 34 franchises fold and canceled the 2009 season?
“I’ve always loved sports,” Butera told Sporting News. “I’ve been involved in Wall Street and gaming, but at the end of the day it’s all about entertainment. This is an entertaining product.”
Affordability has allowed the AFL to survive. Tickets for opening-week games max out at $25, and Butera sees the family-night-out philosophy as a building block for a league nearing its 30th anniversary.
“We’re in indoor venues that are clean, safe and fun,” Butera explained, calling his league “a getaway for a family at a reasonable price.”
But how does one crank up the AFL? Take the show to Vegas and bring Dr. Feelgood.
Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil is the new owner of the Las Vegas Outlaws, the newest franchise in the 12-team league. That’s only part of Butera’s plan, but it’s the one other professional leagues are watching closely.
“I live in Las Vegas,” Butera said. “You always hear about some new professional team trying to get here. It will be a test case to see how successful football can be here in Las Vegas. I think there’s a real need for it. Vegas has matured as a community, and I think there will be support for a quality team.”
Neil’s presence creates a natural rivalry with fellow rock star Gene Simmons, who owns the Los Angeles Kiss. But Butera is quick to point out the AFL isn’t just a “rock-and-roll football league.” Cleveland Cavaliers head Dan Gilbert (Cleveland) is also an AFL owner, as are former NFL stars Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay) and Ron Jaworski (Philadelphia).
Jaworski helped organize the Boardwalk Bowl, a game between Las Vegas and Philadelphia set to be played May 30 in Atlantic City. And for those seeking a bandwagon, the Arizona Rattlers are going for a fourth consecutive Arena Bowl championship.
The 50-yard-football fix hasn’t survived this long by accident, and Butera even admits a lack of concerted effort for marketing and promotion. The AFL will never get better players than the NFL, but that’s not the goal.
Butera instead intends to compete with movies and concerts. With another rock star on board to bring increased entertainment value, it’s worth waiting for what happens next. The commissioner is on to something that he knows works in casinos.
“My hope is that someday, at the end of the game, a guy looks at the guy next to him and says, ‘Hey, who won the game? What was the score?'” Butera said. “We really do want to make an arena game the ultimate night out.”