The Arena Football League, which kicks off on April 13, has 19 franchises, a minor league that will field 29 teams and a championship game that has been carried live on ABC the last three years, but you'd hardly know it by reading most of the nation's print publications, including SI, or by looking at TV sports news. Regular-season games merit no more than a short story in papers or a brief clip on the 11 o'clock television news in the teams' home cities. Forget about substantial coverage in USA Today or on any of the national sports highlight shows. This media indifference led to the creation of arenafan.com, a website that provides the only in-depth national coverage of the high-scoring league that annually draws more than a million fans and strongly encourages all players to stay for a half hour after games to sign autographs.
Kevin Sheller, a video game producer, teamed with stats guru Dave Carlson, a computer programmer, to launch Arena Fan in 1998. Their site provides blanket coverage of the sport, using volunteer writers and photographers, and offers links to pertinent newspaper stories around the country.
Despite the lack of old-media coverage, Sheller thinks the NFL's purchase two years ago of an option to buy half the league will lead to more national interest. "The quality of the product on the field is the reason the league has hung around for so long," says Sheller. "People are blown away the first time they see a game."