America is awash in professional football. Besides the N.F.L., there is the Fan-Controlled Football League and the Spring League, and next year they will be joined by a reissued XFL and the Pacific Pro League.
Until earlier this month there was also the Alliance of American Football. It collapsed and joined the scrap heap of football leagues past.
But as Corey Galloway will tell you, there is a form of professional football with a long track record of success that isn’t talked about enough: arena football.
“We know that this works because 30 years later, it is still there,” Galloway said in a phone interview last week.
Galloway is the managing partner of Legacy Growth Partners, an investment firm. Along with his wife, Tamara, he is also the owner of the expansion New York Streets football team, which began play in the National Arena League — N.A.L. — last weekend with a 52-41 win over the Jacksonville Sharks.
Time will tell if the Streets go the way of long defunct arena football teams like the New York Knights, the New York CityHawks and the New York Dragons; if they become a money-losing tax write-off for Galloway; or if they somehow turn into indoor football’s Green Bay Packers.
Chances of that final possibility are not good. No team from the original Arena Football League’s first decade is still in existence.
But giddiness creeps into Galloway’s voice when he talks about the team-building process or a defensive line anchored by players who played their college football in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. He relishes getting mired in the details, from adjusting the arena lighting for telecasts to imagining nontraditional ticketing models.
He swears he is in this to profit.
“At the end of the day, all of these teams are investments,” he said, speaking about the N.A.L. He and Tamara shelled out $2 million in start-up costs and expect to break even on the Streets this season. He predicted their investment will begin paying off in three years.
It is fair to question their sanity. After all, arena football may have a 30-year history, but today it is only hanging on by a thread.
The Arena Football League, led by popular teams like the San Jose SaberCats and the Philadelphia Soul, peaked at 19 teams in 2007 before canceling the 2009 season entirely and going bankrupt. This year the reformulated league will have just six teams competing.
Jim Foster founded the Arena Football League and was its first commissioner, and he later owned its Iowa Barnstormers. He said owners get involved with indoor football because they believe they can make money, think it will be fun or have a large ego. But they all eventually learn that profit margins are slim and that the team requires a fully engaged owner who deeply understands its market.
“You can’t treat them like they are some sort of hobby,” he said. “It’s not like buying a yacht to play around with or an airplane.”
The N.A.L. was formed in 2017, and also has six teams. Another half-dozen teams that played in either the 2017 or 2018 season have already folded or decamped for still other arena leagues, meaning in the N.A.L.’s short history there are as many defunct teams as there are operational ones.
This does not dissuade Galloway. “If you go look at the N.F.L., in the 1930s and 1940s, 80 percent of those teams died,” he said, and the same thing happened with the leagues that ultimately became the N.B.A. and M.L.B.
Which isn’t to say Galloway believes arena football will soon be a major sport, but he insisted that in the $160 billion sports industry, not everything has to be the N.F.L. There is room for alternatives, for a second place. “Maybe I want a Toyota, maybe a Hyundai,” he said.
One of arena football’s advantages compared with outdoor leagues is that it costs only 25 percent as much to operate a team. The rosters are smaller, just 26 players, and indoor arenas are much cheaper to operate than outdoor stadiums.
The Streets will play in the Westchester County Center in White Plains, a 4,400-seat arena. They will use only about 2,500 of them, providing a more intimate atmosphere than most fans are accustomed to when watching football.
The N.A.L. has teams only in the East. Its territory stretches from Worcester, Mass., to Orlando, Fla., meaning no expensive cross-country travel.
Less than two weeks before the home opener Saturday against the Orlando Predators, Galloway was cautiously optimistic. A thousand tickets had been sold, and businesses were buying season-ticket packages. The Streets’ home games will be shown on the MSG Network.
He also has a built-in advantage. The team is perhaps the biggest customer for another business in the Galloways’ budding portfolio, the PacPlex, a sports recreation facility in Canarsie, Brooklyn. The Galloways live in New Rochelle, N.Y., but Corey Galloway is a Brooklyn native.
The Streets practice at the PacPlex, on a field purchased from a shuttered arena team, work out at the facility’s pools and weight rooms, and eat two meals a day in its restaurant. The PacPlex also functions as a gym, workout facility and a location for after-school programs with tutoring, sports and computer classes.
Out-of-town players — only about 30 percent of the roster is from the New York metropolitan area — live near the PacPlex. To ensure the local connection that Corey Galloway believes is critical for a minor league team, the Streets have signed the former Brooklyn South Shore High School quarterback David Legree and a wide receiver named Edgar Allen Poe Jr., who fittingly played college football at West Point. (The more famous Edgar Allan Poe intentionally got kicked out of the academy in 1831.)
It might not be enough. If every Streets home game this season sells out, they will draw about as many people as show up for a single Knicks game. Tickets cost $21. Beyond the Streets, it is almost impossible to figure out if N.A.L. teams have television agreements, or where to watch their games. Games do stream on the N.A.L.’s YouTube channel; the most watched of last week’s games has just over 11,000 views. One stream has since been taken down for a copyright violation.
Nevertheless, Galloway has grand ambitions for arena football beyond the Streets. He is the executive director of the N.A.L., overseeing critical matters like a leaguewide television agreement and possible investments in the league. He is exploring partnerships or mergers with other arena leagues. He would like to see some form of an arena football Super Bowl, pitting the N.A.L. champion against the champion from another league.
All of this costs money, as any number of investors who have lost small fortunes on new leagues and sports teams can explain. Before its collapse, the A.A.F. was reportedly spending $10 million each week, and the owner Tom Dundon sank $70 million into the bankrupt venture. Charlie Ebersol, one of its founders, wanted the league to be valued like a technology company, making years of losses acceptable. It was not.
Operational losses aren’t acceptable to Galloway. “We need to operate this as a business and break even or make money so that we can be sustainable,” he said.
So far the history of arena football has been anything but sustainable. He is betting on the Streets to change that.