An NFL enigma: Why doesn't arena football match up?

Why isn't arena football as popular in the U.S. as its NFL counterpart?

As a non-fan, I can't see the allure of freezing to death in a cold stadium for an NFL game. As for television, it seems to primarily benefit tavern owners, since the game goes on forever -- giving it a high beer/yards played ratio. What's wrong with a fast-paced game played in a comfy environment? 

Yet, sports fans like my boss, a former sports editor, simply dismiss the game. And since we all try to understand our bosses (isn't that called managing up?), I called up an expert at Temple University for help. It was part of my research for a story I wrote about a group of local investors' plan to bring arena football to China.

Maybe it's because I asked him about arena football in China, but Joe Mahan 3d, a Temple University assistant professor who specializes in sport consumer psychology, gave me a very yin/yang answer. Arena football, he said, is both too different from NFL football and not different enough from it. 

"It's not different enough of a product to have won anybody over," said Mahan. "People are happy with the [NFL] product that's there. It has overwhelming popularity. There's not enough room for another version of the same product."

But what about the minor leagues in baseball, I asked. Isn't it the same sort of idea?

"Minor league baseball is the same product," he said, "but people go for different reasons. They don’t go for the game on the field. It's a low-cost, family-oriented event. It’s more accessible."

And that's where arena football is too different. With the shorter field, fewer players and hard borders, it's really not enough of the same game to be considered a developmental league for the NFL, Mahan said.

"It’s different enough, in some aspects," he said, "but then it’s not different enough, because it’s still football and the ball is the same shape."