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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arena Football League 'suspends' 2009 season

The Arena Football League yesterday announced it will "suspend" its 2009 season, five days after it put off such a move in the face of a divided group of owners.

The decision, reached in a conference call Sunday night, is pending "the agreement and cooperation" of the league's players association, which still was discussing its next move yesterday.

Dragons president Shanna Silva and managing partner Steven Silva, her husband, declined to comment until the union makes its decision and the matter officially is resolved.

The Silvas are part of a management group that purchased the team from Islanders owner Charles Wang over the summer in a deal believed to be worth about $16 million.

They are among a minority of the 16 teams' owners who support playing the '09 season even as the AFL tries to develop "a long-term plan to improve its economic model," as a news release put it.

That minority is believed to have dwindled from six teams to four by Sunday - the others being San Jose, Arizona and Tampa Bay - not enough for the one-third vote required to avoid a shutdown.

(Gridiron Enterprises, which held the patent on the AFL's field design, also had one of the 17 votes and favored playing.)

The league's statement did not promise it will return in 2010. It also did not quote any owners who favored playing in 2009, referencing only several high-profile ones in favor of a suspension: Jon Bon Jovi of Philadelphia, Jerry Jones of Dallas, Arthur Blank of Georgia and John Elway of Colorado.

"These are trying economic times," Bon Jovi said. "The revamping will ensure that the AFL continues to provide value to its fans and not only survives but thrives in the years to come."

Ed Policy, acting commissioner since the abrupt resignation of David Baker in July, also cited economic conditions for the move, a factor others in the league downplayed.

The 22-year-old AFL will explore new procedures, perhaps including a less centralized league office. It was bleeding money in recent months and owed millions more.

Wang had been open to selling the Dragons for several years. They moved from Iowa to Long Island in 2001. The team unveiled a new logo and colors in September.

NBC televised the AFL until ESPN stepped in in 2007 and acquired a minority equity stake in the league, a move owners hoped would give it greater promotion and a wider following.

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