I wasn't much of an Arena Football League fan, but I did love the IDEA of Arena.
When I was getting my MBA, if I ever had "one shining moment," it was "cracking" the case study of the failure of the XFL -- using Arena League as a contrast of what COULD work.
Why did Arena work? The product wasn't a watered-down NFL (see XFL, UFL) but had well-defined differentiation, with an emphasis on video-game like scoring.
They had a serious commitment to customer service; they saw taking care of the fans -- especially at games -- as a top priority.
They went into markets that were underserved by the NFL. They got a nice distribution deal (and investment) from ESPN. They had celebrity owners like Jon Bon Jovi.
So what happened? Why did Arena fail? I think you can see at least one core reason in the detail that Arena's MINOR-league ("a2") continues to succeed.
The game rules remain interesting, and the scores eye-popping. The commitment to serving fans is there. They were in much smaller markets -- sort of like low-level minor-league baseball.
Ironically, Arena probably failed -- among other reasons, like the overall economy -- because they tried to be too big and collapsed under their own weight.
What a lesson, and you see it with "niche" sports all the time: Just do what you do best and make a tidy little business for yourself. You ain't gonna be a "big" sport and don't even try.
Related: My problem with the set-up of the UFL is that they are following the XFL's path to irrelevancy through mediocrity. Who wants to watch players who can't make the NFL cut?
My idea for the UFL is simple: If they really want to be pro football's (read: the NFL's) "development league," then allow underclassmen ineligible for the NFL Draft into the league.
Give them better preparation for a pro career than college will give them and the NFL, UFL and fans are all best-served. College football will be fine with the 97 percent of players that remain.
I appreciate that the UFL is starting small, with contained costs and locations in underserved NFL markets. But the product differentiation isn't there. That's where the AFL was the best.