Friday, November 30, 2007

Can Indoor Football Ever Survive In Daytona Beach?

Recently, I had heard that the Daytona Beach Thunder, formerly a WIFL team, had been purchased and was going to become an AF2 team. That has since become a reality with the Thunder becoming the Thunderbirds. That will make it the third different league that Daytona Beach has fielded a team for in the past three years. Will this one be any more successful?

From my perspective, corporate sponsorships haven't been much of a problem. It appears that businesses in the area would love for an indoor football team to achieve success, and that they have no problem supporting one. The residents of the city, however are another story. It's not that they don't want the league to succeed, it just seems that they're indifferent to it. Most already support at least one college team and an NFL team, and after devoting time and resources to being a fan of those franchises there isn't much drive to support another football team.

You see, Florida is extremely lucky in that there are NFL and college teams that cover the whole state. From South Florida to the northeast corner, and out to the panhandle you can find a team to root for. Adding another team to the mix, especially in the niche sport like indoor football is an extremely tough thing to do. It's even harder when you have successful AFL franchises in Tampa and Orlando.

The Storm and Predators consistently draw over 10,000 fans to their games. Last year, the Thunder struggled to draw over 1,000. In fact, the team "gave away more tickets than those who showed up". Indoor football just isn't a popular enough sport to support a big fanbase in this area where college and NFL football are king, and the Predators and Storm suck up whatever fans are left.

This new affiliation with the AF2 does help the Thunderbird's cause because it's a more publicized league than the AIFL or WIFL. However, even that might not be enough because their season runs in direct competition with the Orlando Predators that play just 45 minutes away.

I think that the best chance this team has to succeed is to present it as a springboard for players who want to play for either the Preds or Storm. That way, fans can support the players early in their careers, then follow them when they move onto a bigger stage. Trying to present it as the latest and greatest sports attraction just won't work in Daytona Beach where tourism and NASCAR reign, and most of the football fandom is already spoken for.

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