- - Thursday, February 23, 2023

It’s easy to overlook the Washington Valor when you think back on the golden era of Washington sports championships (the Capitals claiming the Stanley Cup in 2018, the Mystics ruling the WNBA in 2019 and the Nationals earning World Series rings that same year).

The Valor were champs, too. But the Washington franchise from the 2018 version of the Arena Football League remains, on even a good day, an afterthought in local sports lore. The 2-10 Valor were the last-place team in a four-team league that surprised the Baltimore Brigade 69-55 in the league championship game.

Washington sports magnate Ted Leonsis was the winner and the loser in that title game — he owned both franchises, 50% of the existing league at the time. A year later, though, Leonsis, who predicted big things for that iteration of Arena Football, was the big loser, as the league folded and filed for bankruptcy.

But that may not be the end of Arena Football in Washington.

Earlier this month a group of businessmen announced they were bringing the league back for 2024.

“We are elated to come out of hibernation and make this announcement official,” Anthony Rossi, the league’s president, said in a statement. “Our objective when we acquired the AFL was to bring back a storied brand that deserved to be revived and showcased again, globally.”

The plan is for 16 franchises around the country, owned by individual owners. AFL Chairman Chris Chetty said there has been some interest from Washington and he is hoping one of those 16 franchises comes to the D.C. area.

Washington is a sports city,” Chetty said. “You can’t ignore that. That is where there is interest coming from that market and we would love to have a team there.”

That’s how Leonsis felt, too, a few years back. Not anymore. Leonsis told me in an email he has no appetite for jumping back into the Arena Football business. “No interest, in any way in a team or the league,” he wrote.

You can certainly understand that. Leonsis likely has his hands full trying to buy the Washington Nationals from his Monumental Sports business partner, Mark Lerner.

But if the new brand of Arena Football does want to come to Washington, they will have to do business with Leonsis anyway. He owns or operates both of the possible sites for indoor football here — Capital One Arena and EagleBank Arena. Leonsis did not shut the door on being a landlord for the new venture.

“They could rent our facility like any other tenant — if the dates are available,” Leonsis said.

Chetty did not reveal any names of prospective owners. “We are not just signing up any owner,” he said. “We are making sure there is the right synergy, the right partnership, the right vision is how we want to relaunch the league and make it sustainable. Our vetting process is very diligent. We want to make sure we chose the right strategic partnerships in the right markets.

“We have a lineup of applicants that want to purchase teams,” he said. “By the summer we will have our 16 teams fulfilled. We have our media deal that will be announced in April. Then we are going to start scouting and looking for the best quality football players, not just from a competitive standpoint, but great human beings. We want to make sure the product is just as good off the field as it is on the field. We are taking this by storm.”

Big talk for a venture that has a rocky past even in good times — and now has to compete with other pro football ventures like the revived versions of the XFL and the USFL.

“I think competition is great,” Chetty said. “One thing I feel where we have the edge is our league has the history — the inception of indoor football. There is a lot of support coming our way from former alumni, coaches, ownership of some teams that are really rallying together and want to see this come back with a bang.”

If you were one of the too few who came to watch the Valor play for three seasons, you probably are welcoming the possibility of the return of the AFL here. It was a fun, family-friendly event. Just not enough fun or family to sustain it.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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