By Peter Schwartz
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Scott Butera has been a sports fan all his life.READ MORE: Manhattan, Brooklyn Residents Sue City To Stop Permanent Outdoor Dining
In fact, during any business meeting that he’s been in, he would spend the first 20 minutes talking about a game from the night before.
“I’ve always loved sports and I’ve always loved the game of football,” Butera said. “As I got to know about the sports industry, I realized that it was a place that I wanted to be.”
And now Butera has parlayed his love of sports into the opportunity that he has been waiting for, as earlier this week he was named as the seventh Commissioner of the Arena Football League.
The AFL has been around since 1987 with the exception of a one year hiatus in 2009, when the league was reorganizing. Today, the league has 13 teams with a 14th, the Las Vegas Outlaws, joining in 2015. The AFL is high-octane football played on a 50-yard field surrounded by hockey boards and rebound nets that can turn missed field goals into sheer mayhem.
And unlike the NFL, the AFL offers family affordable prices.
“It’s a big theme of ours,” said Butera. “It’s clearly a great value. I think the sport itself is exciting. We’re going to beef up our in-game entertainment and technology to really enhance the fan experience.”
Butera will guide a league that has television contracts in place with CBS Sports Network and ESPN. He joins the AFL after a successful stint as CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino, where he restructured the resort’s finances and operations while securing sports partnerships with the Yankees, Rangers, Knicks, Nets and Madison Square Garden.
With a financial background that includes 20 years in investment banking, Butera takes over a sports league that has enjoyed success but also has the potential for growth.
“I’m very excited,” said Butera. “I think is an incredible opportunity. The product is excellent. The quality of the sport is very good. For us, it’s a matter of getting more exposure for arena football, growing our sponsors and strategic partners and maybe getting into more cities.”
Butera is well equipped to lead the Arena Football League into the next phase of its history.
He played football at his alma mater Trinity College in Hartford and has enjoyed a successful business career that saw him serve as the CEO of Tropicana Entertainment, where he took the company out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and revitalized the brand through improved marketing and property redevelopment.
Now his job is to raise the awareness of the Arena Football League and increase the revenue.
“I think the league is definitely going to be growing,” said Butera. “I think it’s just a matter of exposure. I think the more that we can introduce people and fans and sponsors to this league, the more they’ll get to like it and support it. Hopefully we can grow the revenue base for the existing teams as well as get into some new markets.”
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It’s possible. The Arena Football League has had several franchises in our area over the years, most recently the New York Dragons from 2001-2008.
There has been some speculation over the last couple of years about a return of the AFL to the metropolitan area.
“Obviously the New York market is a great market,” said Butera. “I’ve spent a lot of my professional life working in New York and attending sports events in New York. The New York market is obviously attractive.”
The Dragons, who played at Nassau Coliseum, were the most successful AFL team in the market both on the field and at the box office. The Coliseum is going to be renovated and downsized to a capacity of 13,000 after the Islanders leave for Brooklyn, so that could be a potential landing spot for a team.
But so far, nothing is imminent.
“We haven’t announced any plans for any expansion markets yet,” said Butera. “It’s really about finding the right owner and the right situation, but of course the New York market would be interesting to us.”
The AFL has teams in small and medium size markets like Orlando, Tampa Bay, Spokane and Portland, but it is not afraid about trying a bigger city. The league returned to Southern California this past season with the LA KISS.
Yes, that team is owned by the legendary rock band “KISS.” and they are the subject of the popular reality television “4th and Loud.”
Having Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley as owners has been important to the AFL.
“What the KISS guys have done is certainly a tremendous boost to this league,” said Butera. “They’ve certainly helped get exposure for their team and this league. They kind of check all the boxes in terms of what you would want in an owner. I think they are going to be a big part of our future.”
Scott Butera has been around gaming for quite some time but now he’s entering a new arena — the Arena Football League. He brings an impressive business background to a league and a sport that has enormous potential and lots of growth opportunity.
That growth could mean another AFL franchise in the metropolitan area.
I would like to dedicate this column to former AFL and NFL kicker Rob Bironas, who passed away on Saturday night in a car crash in Nashville. I had the opportunity to work with Rob when he played for the New York Dragons in 2005 and my condolences go out to his family.
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