|Current season, competition or edition:|
2021 American Arena League season
|Founder||Tony Zefiretto, Jack Bowman, Tim Viens|
|Owner(s)||AJ Roque and Jermaine Sanders|
|No. of teams||11|
|North Texas Bulls (2021)|
|American Indoor Football|
The American Arena League (AAL) is a minor professional indoor football league that began playing in 2018. The league was initiated by a merger between Arena Pro Football (APF) and the Can-Am Indoor Football League (Can-Am), although the AAL only claimed the APF history after the former Can-Am founder left the league. Teams from both leagues, new teams, and later teams from Supreme Indoor Football and National Arena League constituted the new league for its inaugural season.
Arena Pro Football (APF) was originally announced as the National Arena Football League in 2016 following the dissolution of American Indoor Football (AIF). The league announced their first three teams as the Birmingham Outlawz, Myrtle Beach Sharks, and Savannah Coastal Outlaws. The league changed its name to Arena Pro Football (APF) in September 2016 after the Birmingham Outlawz accidentally posted the NAFL logo of the proposed North American Football League as their league logo. They added expansion teams in the Cape Fear Wildcats and Richmond Roughriders. The league also added the Florida Tarpons and River City Raiders from the recently defunct AIF. The Central Florida Jaguars and Palm Beach Phantoms were also listed as members until both moved to the Jaguars' self-created league, Elite Indoor Football Conference. The Cape Fear Wildcats were later postponed to a presumed 2018 season. The Birmingham Outlawz later changed their name back to Alabama Outlawz after they failed to secure an arena in Birmingham. The Myrtle Beach Sharks announced they had joined the outdoor Gridiron Developmental Football League on March 7 and had left the APF.
The Can-Am Indoor Football League (Can-Am) was also formed from the remnants of the AIF when Tim Viens, the owner of the announced 2017 AIF expansion team Vermont Bucks, started his own league. With Viens serving as league president, the league added the Buffalo Blitz and Ontario-Niagara Spartans (both run by owners of established semi-professional teams, the Buffalo Gladiators and Steel City Patriots, respectively), as well as the Connecticut Chiefs (travel-only), Glens Falls Gladiators (travel-only), Niagara Falls Thunder (also operated by the Blitz ownership), New Hampshire Brigade, Rochester Kings, as well as Viens' Vermont Bucks. During the Can-Am's first few months, it added and removed the Baltimore Lightning, Cleveland Saints, an unnamed team in Erie, Pennsylvania, Lockport Lightning, and Reading Raptors as league members without playing a game.
Prior to its first season, the APF formed several agreements with other upstart leagues. The first affiliation was with United States Indoor Football, a summer league that was to play all its games in Savannah, Georgia, and operated by the Coastal Outlaws (the organization that also runs the Savannah Coastal Outlaws). On November 3, 2016, the league announced inter-league play with the Central Florida Jaguars' Elite Indoor Football Conference. However, all references to the EIFC were removed in January 2017 even after the Jaguars and Phantoms had attended the December 2016 league meetings as APF affiliates. None of these inter-league games were ever played and the EIFC played one weekend outdoors before ceasing operations.
On November 14, 2016, both the APF and Can-Am announced an alliance with each other where the playoff champions of each league meet for an inter-league championship game. During the two league's first seasons, the Can-Am's founder Tim Viens announced on April 14, 2017, that for the 2018 season the APF and Can-Am leagues would officially merge and create the American Arena League, which the APF would later confirm. The championship between the two leagues was never played or referenced by either league again.
The APF played its first game on March 10, 2017, between the Alabama Outlawz and Florida Tarpons, which Florida won, 42–18. After playing three away games, all losses, the Alabama Outlawz canceled their first home game. On April 26, they then announced that they had canceled the rest of their season, which had originally been scheduled as all home games. The Myrtle Beach Sharks appeared to have rejoined the APF mid-season; however, it was for away games only and the team called the Sharks were wearing the defunct Myrtle Beach Freedom uniforms. After playing all five home games to open the season, the River City Raiders declined to travel to play the Richmond Roughriders for their scheduled May 20 game. The Roughriders were able to secure an opponent in the Atlanta Furious, a team that primarily played in the Southern Steam's Elite Indoor Football (although many of those league's games were played outdoors). The only other away games the Raiders had originally been scheduled for was one of the canceled Alabama home games and against the Myrtle Beach Sharks. By the end of the season, the only remaining teams operating were the Richmond Roughriders and Florida Tarpons. The Roughriders defeated the Tarpons, 74–61, in the championship game on June 10, 2017, after the Roughriders finished the season undefeated.
The Can-Am also had significant inconsistencies in team members and scheduling. By the end of the season, there were only five teams remaining: the Buffalo Blitz, Glens Falls Gladiators (as a travel-only team, had a short winless season and were disqualified from playoff participation), Rochester Kings, Vermont Bucks, and the Tim Viens-owned Boston Blaze, a travel-only team that only played the second half of the season. The Rochester Kings finished their season undefeated with the Vermont Bucks and Boston Blaze each losing one game (Vermont lost to Boston, and Boston to Rochester). The Kings announced they were to host the Buffalo Blitz in the Western Division championship on June 3. The Bucks were to host the Boston Blaze in the Eastern Division championship. However, the Bucks later announced they were facing the semi-professional Central Penn Chargers, a team that primarily played in the Mid-Atlantic Indoor Football League, in their postseason game. The Kings defeated the Blitz 64–12 and the Bucks defeated the Chargers 46–6. The Bucks defeated the Kings in Rochester for the league championship on June 12 by a score of 61–41.
In June 2017, the now-merged league announced its inaugural members over its social media page. From the Can-Am, the league added the Boston Blaze, Buffalo Blitz, Connecticut Chiefs, Glens Falls Gladiators, Rochester Kings, Vermont Bucks, and the Central Penn Chargers (the team that played in Can-Am playoff game against the Bucks). From the APF, the league added the Florida Tarpons, Richmond Roughriders, and the announced expansion team Hampton Roads Riptides. The Roughriders had previously stated that they were looking to join to the Indoor Football League (IFL) or the National Arena League (NAL) and that they had not committed to joining the AAL yet. The AAL then deleted all references of the Roughriders from their social media posts within two days and the Roughriders later announced they had joined the National Arena League (NAL). By early July, the only teams that had not been deleted from their social media posts were the Bucks, Gladiators, Kings, and Tarpons. On July 13, the league added the Georgia Doom of Macon, Georgia. The Doom organization had played a few games as a travel team fill-in for the Dayton Wolfpack of the NAL the previous season. The league also added the Triangle Torch and Upstate Dragons after they previously played in Supreme Indoor Football (SIF), with the SIF's Cape Fear Heroes (the ownership group that operates the SIF) joining the AAL shortly thereafter. By September 13, the Roughriders returned to the AAL when the NAL had increased its criteria for new teams. On September 20, the High Country Grizzlies, formerly of the NAL, also joined the AAL.
By fall 2017, the teams began releasing their inaugural schedules and expansion teams, the Atlanta Havoc (owned by league president Viens) and the Carolina Energy, were added to the league. The AAL also added three affiliated teams that would fill in for home games of the league members and count for league games: the Austin Wild (formerly the Cap City Bulls of Austin, Texas, which had played as a traveling team in the SIF during 2017), the New England Cavalry (operated by the outdoor semi-professional organization out of Concord, New Hampshire), and the Savannah Coastal Outlaws (originally announced as an AAL member from the APF merger). In December 2017, another previously announced NAL expansion team, the Jersey Flight of Trenton, New Jersey, was added to the league. In January 2018, Tim Viens sold his first team, the Vermont Bucks, to solely operate the Atlanta Havoc. The new Bucks' owners then folded the team a month later and another new team, called the Peach State Cats (originally announced in the semi-professional Elite Indoor Football), was added but were only scheduled for away games. The Glens Falls Gladiators ceased operations just prior to the season, while the Coastal Outlaws would also never play an AAL game with many of their games replaced with the Carolina Cowboyz, also originally of Elite Indoor Football, to bring the league to twelve members and three affiliates to start the 2018 season.
Partway through the first AAL season, co-founder Tim Viens resigned from his positions within the league on April 14, 2018, and would also no longer be involved with his team, the Atlanta Havoc. The league then moved their website and retroactively claimed to have been founded as Arena Pro Football and changed its name when the Can-Am teams joined. The league continued to have scheduling issues and canceled games, leading to the Florida Tarpons, East Carolina Torch (formerly the Triangle Torch until they were forced to relocate), and Upstate Dragons choosing to end their seasons early. The last Can-Am team, the Rochester Kings, also appeared to have ceased playing league games altogether during the season. The Georgia Doom defeated both the league-leading teams, the Atlanta Havoc and Richmond Roughriders, but then chose not to participate in the playoffs. The Havoc went on to win the championship over the top-seeded Roughriders 58–50.
Shortly after the 2018 season ended, the Atlanta Havoc announced their relocation to Florence, South Carolina, as the Carolina Havoc and that they would host the All-Star Game at their new arena. The AAL then announced the game would be broadcast on ESPN3 with Mick Moninghoff as play-by-play commentator on August 25. The game was held and the Stripes defeated the Stars by a score of 34–29, but the game was broadcast on Facebook instead and all references to their ESPN3 announcement were taken down on game day.
On August 15, 2018, Richmond Roughriders' owner Gregg Fornario announced his intentions of creating a new league called Northern Arena Football (NAF). His Roughriders team, despite the possibility of losing its home arena in Richmond for 2019, was not initially planning on leaving the AAL with the NAF only having teams north of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. The AAL affiliate team, the New England Cavalry, were the first team added to the NAF. However, by August 28, Fornario had rebranded the new league as Professional Arena Football (PAF) with multiple divisions, Northern Arena Football and Southern Arena Football, and the Roughriders were announced as part of Professional Arena Football on August 30, leaving the AAL.
By September 2018, the AAL confirmed five teams were returning for a 2019 season: the Cape Fear Heroes, Carolina Energy, Georgia Doom, High Country Grizzlies, and Peach State Cats (with the Cats relocating to Athens, Georgia, and no longer a travel-only team). The Florida Tarpons left the league and formed a new Florida-based league while rebranding as the Lakeland Tarpons. The defending champion Carolina Havoc later announced they would remain in the league. The Roughriders returned to AAL, now as the Wheeling-based West Virginia Roughriders, after Fornario's plans for the PAF fell through. On December 12, 2018, the league announced its 2019 alignment split into a four-team Northern Division and an eight-team Southern Division. The league also announced the return of the Jersey Flight, as well as the additions of the Carolina Cowboyz (now full-time members with a home arena in Pendleton, South Carolina), the traveling team Carolina Predators, the New England Bobcats (formerly of Elite Indoor Football), and the Burgh Defenders (Pittsburgh). The AAL then split the Southern Division into a Southern and Mid-Atlantic Division prior to the scheduled release. In January 2019, the league then added a Midwest Division composed of three teams that had been in the developmental Midwest Professional Indoor Football (MPIF): the Chicago Aztecs, Indianapolis Enforcers, and West Michigan Ironmen. Less than a month prior to the start of the 2019 season, the High Country Grizzlies ceased operations and the Chicago Aztecs withdrew for the season reducing the league to 13 teams. The Georgia Doom and New England Bobcats later folded during the season. There were many other canceled or rescheduled home games either due to arena issues or the away team not traveling.
On April 27, 2019, league co-founder and president Jack Bowman died after an illness and the league championship was then named the Jack Bowman Trophy. The Carolina Energy traveled to face the West Virginia Roughriders for the newly renamed championship on June 29, and the Roughriders won 55–29. After the season, Fornario again stated he was removing the Roughriders from the AAL. The Roughriders, as well as the Jersey Flight, were accepted to join the National Arena League (NAL) for the 2020 season. The league also lost the Burgh Defenders (removed from league), Carolina Havoc (loss of lease), and Peach State Cats (left league).
The AAL announced several new teams for the 2020 season including the Louisville Xtreme, Music City Fire, Pennsylvania Copperheads, Pennsylvania Union, South Florida Thunder (as a travel-only team), and the Tampa Bay Tornadoes. The league also merged with the semiprofessional Mid-Atlantic Indoor Football League, adding the Central Penn Chargers, Jersey Bearcats, Maryland Eagles, Reading Raptors, and Western Maryland Warriors. However, before the season could start, most venues were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the season was subsequently cancelled. During the following offseason, the league lost the Louisville Xtreme and Tampa Bay Tornadoes to the NAL without the teams playing a game in the AAL.
By December 2020, the league had not confirmed any new teams and repeatedly stated it would not announce any 2021 season plans or teams until there were further developments in regards to teams being able to actually play due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, several teams have announced they would be joining the league in 2021. In September 2020, a new team called the West Texas Buccaneers in El Paso, Texas, announced itself as a league member of a Texas-based division, along with several other potential cities for the 2021 season. New Texas teams called the San Antonio Gunslingers and Allen Tiger-Cats then announced they were joining the AAL. The Topeka Thundercats then announced they would join the AAL in a new Midwest-based division. In December, the league announced that some of the teams that had announced themselves had already been evaluated and were not members of the AAL.
The league then updated its website in December 2020 with a list of 17 teams in three divisions for the 2021 season, including Allen, San Antonio, and El Paso. It also re-added the Austin Wild and Tampa Bay Tornadoes, as well as new teams in the Chicago Power, North Texas Bulls, Mississippi Raiders, and St. Louis Bandits. Previously listed 2020 teams, the Carolina Cowboyz, Central Penn Chargers, Maryland Eagles, South Florida Thunder, and Western Maryland Warriors were no longer listed as members. The Music City Fire remained listed as a member, but were not scheduled to play any games. Allen was removed in January 2021 and replaced with a team called the Texas Takeover based in Fort Worth, which was also removed in February. The season started with two games on March 13, 2021. Reading left the league March 27 without playing a game. St. Louis withdrew from the season in May after two league games played citing COVID-19 concerns. Tampa Bay did not play its final three scheduled games.
The league announced it would not have a championship game and would instead name three division champions. The East Division champion Charlotte Thunder and West Division champion North Texas Bulls then scheduled their own league championship game regardless of the league's approval; the Midwest Division champion West Michigan Ironmen were not involved.
In June 2021, it was reported that league president and commissioner Tony Zefiretto had sold the league to the ownership of the Jersey Bearcats and Indianapolis Enforcers. The new ownership reportedly approved of the game between the Thunder and Bulls, which was won by the North Texas Bulls 60–43 on June 26.
After the 2021 season concluded, four members of the East Division (Carolina Predators, Tampa Bay Tornadoes, Pennsylvania Union and Mississippi Raiders) announced that they would leave the AAL to form new league called Arena Indoor Football Alliance. The Charlotte Thunder left to form their own league, the North Texas Bulls left to join the new Texas-based Arena Football Association, and the San Antonio Gunslingers were announced as an expansion team in the NAL.
In December 2021, the new ownership led by AJ Roque and Jermaine Sanders, the owners of the Jersey Bearcats, launched the new website for league following the completion of the sale from Tony Zefiretto. They then hired Kevin O'Hanlon as commissioner. They announced they would be launching an AAL development league in 2022 called "American Arena League 2".
As of July 2021. Italics represent travel-only teams.
|East||Charlotte Thunder||Charlotte, North Carolina||Bojangles Coliseum||8,600||2017||2018||Ervin Bryson|
|Jersey Bearcats||Jackson, New Jersey||Trophy Park[a]||2018||2020[b]||AJ Roque|
|Midwest||Chicago Power||Hoffman Estates, Illinois||Grand Sports Arena||2,500||2020||2021|
|Indianapolis Enforcers||Carmel, Indiana||Off The Wall Sports||2010||2019||KC Carter|
|Music City Fire||Franklin, Tennessee||Williamson County AgExpo Park||4,180||2019||2020||Joe Campbell|
|St. Louis Bandits||St. Charles, Missouri||Family Arena||9,755||2020||2021||Jeff Hunt|
|West Michigan Ironmen||Muskegon, Michigan||Mercy Health Arena||4,000||2016||2019||Nate Smith|
|West||Austin Wild||Austin, Texas||Traveling team||2016[c]||2018[d]||Bennie King|
|North Texas Bulls||Fort Worth, Texas||Fort Worth Convention Center||13,500||2020||2021||Victor Mann|
|San Antonio Gunslingers||San Antonio, Texas||San Antonio Rose Palace||4,500||2020||2021||Quinton Humphrey Sr.|
|West Texas Buccaneers||El Paso, Texas||El Paso County Coliseum||6,000||2020||2021|
|2018||Atlanta Havoc||Richmond Roughriders||58-50|
|2019||West Virginia Roughriders||Carolina Energy||55–29|
|2020||Season canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic|
|2021||North Texas Bulls||Charlotte Thunder||60–43|