It's the second year for the Pittsburgh Power, the area's arena football team. For those that are unfamiliar with the sport, here's what I wrote last year. I won't repeat what's listed there, except that everything there is more or less confirmed.
We went to last week's game, and as last year it was pretty fun. A few changes this year for the team, of course. The venue--Consol Energy Center--closed off the highest rung of seats, effectively moving the low-tier seats down a level. This makes sense; they weren't selling enough seats, so it's better off letting everyone enjoy closer seating. (Consistent sellout crowds in arena football are still a while away, so this isn't overly alarming.) With this change--and a slight alteration in the pricing structure--the crowd for last Friday's first home game was probably around 70-80% capacity of available seating, which is not too bad. If nothing else, it seemed a healthy crowd and portends a good future for the franchise.
Of course, this season is not without its drama. Right before the first game of the season--the league opener--which was two Fridays ago, the players' union voted to go on strike. They wanted an increase of 400 bucks per game to $1350 for each player. The owners countered with a more modest $500 per diem payment and a bonus for the quarterback.* At this time, the AFL still is not recognizing the union, and all players on the floor right now are no longer members. Of course, the drama was intensified because the owner of the Power decided to read the statement that they were all fired in the middle of eating their pre-game dinner at the Olive Garden. This is not the NFL.
This time we played the Philadelphia Soul, a franchise once owned by one Mr. Jon Bon Jovi. Sadly he is no longer owner and he was not in attendance, though given how staffing has been for the league it wouldn't surprise me if they threw him in as a tackle. The Power lost the game, making their record 1-1.
The entire experience was definitely more streamlined than last year. Last year--the Power's first year of existence--things seemed to get a little desperate. Every announcement was followed by a shill for something they wanted you to buy, and every play seemed to have its own sponsor. While there was still quite a bit of that, it was definitely toned down and overall was a pretty good experience.
The only sour note was the halftime show, which was indoor fireworks. The fireworks show was pretty nice--mostly low-level fireworks and a laser show--but, unfortunately, caused the entire second half of the game to be played under an annoying cloud of smoke. It wouldn't dissipate and the poor fans higher up probably got more than a lungful. It was a nice try, but hopefully they won't do it again.
So, I'll say this year what I said last year: if you've never experienced an arena football game, it's worth it to go. Tickets are cheap and you won't spent 90 minutes in your car trying to leave; the game is face-paced and exciting, and even though it's different it will look similar enough to football that you won't be completely lost.
(As an aside, for those interested, there was a book written by a guy named Jeff Foley who joined the now-defunct Albany Firebirds team for their preseason games called War on the Floor. It's an interesting read and worth checking out.)
*I am certain that there are other factors involved, but let's face it: more than half of the franchises in a brand-new league are barely making payroll, and the union is demanding a tripling of their pay? That's just absurd. In a few years if the business model makes sense, it might be a good time to revisit. But I can't say I blame the owners.