Mustangs Could Be Riding Into the Sunset
Anyone who follows the Arena Football League knows that the league has struggled as of late in many of their markets. The foot hold they once had on the American sport landscape has slipped dramatically over the last few years. Because of this, many have speculated whether the league would down-size and either eliminate, or place on hiatus, teams that are struggling both on and off the field. A small article in a recent edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel seems to indicate that the proverbial snowball is starting its way down the mountainside. The Milwaukee based newspaper is reporting that the Milwaukee Mustangs may not play the 2013 season which may mean they may take a year off, or fold completely. A shame, for a team and a franchise that was once a prolific stalwart within the AFL.
Obviously, when a team considers putting their equipment into mothballs, there are a number of aspects that come into play for an owner to take such a dramatic step. However, at the core for any sporting franchise is whether they have the ability to produce a product that will put fans in the seats. Not having access to the books, one can only generate a perception from attendance figures as an indicator to the woes the Mustangs organization is currently enduring. Attendance in Milwaukee has been disappointing to say the least since the Milwaukee Iron/Mustangs returned to the field to regain their spot within the AFL. Over the past 3 seasons, average attendance at the BMO Harris Bradley Center has been a substandard 4,837. Compare that however with what the former incarnation of the Milwaukee Mustangs was able to draw, and you see a staggering difference in the before and after. From 1994 to 2001, the prior version of the Milwaukee Mustangs was not only a viable entity within the Milwaukee sporting scene, but one of the strong holds within the AFL. With an average attendance of 13,910 over an eight year run, the Mustangs, with their ironman style of football, grew a loyal and ruckus fan base.
The reasons why Milwaukee couldn’t find its passion once again for the indoor game is multi layered. Some walked away after feeling betrayed by the former ownership. In a city that was feverishly behind its team, management’s inability to maintain the team which lead to it being sold and relocated, alienated some of its biggest supporters. One might say that when it came to the Mustangs, the absence of the team did anything but make the heart grow fonder. Over the eight years that the game was not on the scene, fans learned to move on and throw their support behind any of the other sporting franchises within the Milwaukee market. Finally, with the exception of nationally covered Friday night game on the NFL Network, the leagues lack of national exposure has rendered it to appear outwardly nothing more than a minor league organization. This was never more evident than during this year’s Arena Bowl game when the game’s start time was delayed so the NFL Network could instead show a preseason New York Jets game with the hope that Tim Tebow would see significant playing time.
As one who closely followed the Mustangs since their return on the Milwaukee sporting scene, the Mustangs put forth a product and a fan experience that they can truly be proud of. Yet, even with all their efforts, the organization was unable to recapture the magic that a team and its city once shared. If the AFL can’t find a way to once again capture and excite a larger fan base, the financial troubles facing the Mustangs maybe the beginning of the end for not only this franchise and others, but for the league as a whole.