The Arena Football League's Los Angeles Avengers finished its inaugural season in July at the bottom of the standings, with a record of three wins and 11 losses. That didn't stop it from doing quite well at the gate, averaging 11,600 fans for its seven home games at Staples Center, well above the league average of 9,600.
But the team now faces a new challenge from an even newer home team: the L.A. Extreme of the new World Wrestling Federation-sponsored XFL.
The XFL, which will play in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum beginning in February, is backed not only by the deep pockets of the WWF but also by NBC Sports, and has promised to pay the highest salaries for pro football players anywhere, with the exception of the National Football League. The combined lure of more money and a national TV audience may well be enough to lure Arena League players, including those playing for the Avengers, to the new league.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Avengers owner and President Casey Wasserman professes to be unconcerned. While conceding the possibility that some of his players may jump ship, he argues that the losses will be minimal.
"My best players make more money than (the XFL's) best players," he said. "We might lose one or two players, but I sincerely believe the team is bigger than those one or two."
Meanwhile, L.A. Extreme Vice President and General Manager J.K. McKay, while careful to praise his rival executive, underscores his league's assertion that the salaries will exceed those in the Arena League. A basic analysis tends to bear that out, although the salary structures of the two leagues are quite different.
Arena League players make an average of $25,000 a season, but its stars make more than $100,000. In the XFL, the players will make a base salary of $45,000, with the winning team of each contest splitting a $100,000 pot evenly (about $2,600 per team member). Making the playoffs ensures a $10,000 bonus, and the championship team will split a $1 million prize.
"A football player in our league has a clear chance to make greater compensation than anywhere but the NFL," McKay said. "We have been contacted by a good number of players from the other leagues, including the Canadian Football League, the NFL European League, and Arena Football." Although, he quickly added, "We're not going to raid Avenger players."
In an effort to keep its options open, the Arena League last week concluded a collective bargaining agreement with its players, allowing them to play in other football leagues once the season is over. That could either be interpreted as a sign of the league's flexibility or of its desperation in the face of competition.
"It was a terrific hedge on the Arena League's part," said David Carter, principal at The Sports Business Group. "But people are concerned about the XFL and that's evident by some of these policy decisions."
McKay said that while there has been no formal announcement, the XFL has no problem with its players also playing Arena Football, "as long as it doesn't interfere with our league."
That might be a problem, because the XFL season ends the same week in April that the Arena League starts. And Wasserman doesn't relish the prospect of having banged-up players.
"They can try (to play in both leagues)," he said. "Whether they can make it is something else."
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