The Arena Football League (AFL) is a professional indoor American football league in the United States. It was founded in 1987 by Jim Foster, making it the third longest-running professional football league in North America, after the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the National Football League (NFL). The AFL plays a proprietary code known as arena football, a form of indoor American football played on a 66-by-28 yard field (about a quarter of the surface area of an NFL field), with rules encouraging offensive performance, resulting in a faster-paced and higher-scoring game. The sport was invented in the early 1980s and patented by Foster, a former executive of the United States Football League (USFL) and the NFL.
From 2000 to 2009, the AFL had its own developmental league, the af2. The AFL played 22 seasons from 1987 to 2008; internal issues caused the league to cancel its 2009 season, though the af2 did play. Later that year both the AFL and af2 were dissolved and reorganized as a new corporation comprising teams from both leagues, and the AFL returned in 2010. The Arena Football League has its headquarters in Las Vegas. The league's average game attendance since returning in 2010 has been approximately 9,500.
The league has historically had a nationwide footprint and has been recognized as the most prominent professional indoor league in North America, offering higher payment, more widespread media exposure and a longer history than competing leagues. After the 2016 season, continuing a general pattern of contraction over the previous seasons, five of the eight teams either folded or left the league. The three remaining franchises still intend on playing the 2017 season with two expansion teams rounding out the league to five teams, all of them based in the eastern United States; it will be the smallest the league has been since 1989.
Jim Foster, a promotions manager with the National Football League, conceived of indoor football while watching an indoor soccer match at Madison Square Garden in 1981. While at the game, he wrote his idea on a 9 x 12 envelope, with sketches of the field and notes on gameplay. He presented the idea to a few friends at the NFL offices, where he received praise and encouragement for his concept. After solidifying the rules and a business plan, and supplemented with sketches by a professional artist, Foster presented his idea to various television networks. He reached an agreement with NBC for a "test game".
Plans for arena football were put on hold in 1982 as the United States Football League was launched. Foster left the NFL to accept a position in the USFL. He eventually became executive vice-president with the Chicago Blitz, where he returned to his concept of arena football. In 1983, he began organizing the test game in his spare time from his job with the Blitz. By 1985, the USFL had ceased football operations and he began devoting all his time to arena football, and on April 27, 1986, his concept was realized when the test game was played.
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