Since the ’70s, the six-a-side turf and boards game we all know and love has been called “indoor soccer”, but somewhere along the way, the term “arena soccer” joined the vernacular.
In 1987 Jim Foster founded the Arena Football League, which grew and prospered. Competing leagues were forced to call themselves “indoor football” because the AFL had trademarked the arena football name and patented its game systems (the patent expired in 2007), which included the large nets in the end zones.
The success and public familiarity with arena football creates an easily recognizable parallel with the NFL and AFL for outdoor soccer and “arena soccer”. People understand that arena football is a small sided, high-scoring sport with its own set of rules and not merely football played indoors.
Indoor soccer in the southwest, and in Mexico (where it is called futbol rapido) is often not played indoors at all. While the game is played within the same boarded confines, it is frequently played outdoors or in semi-enclosed facilities.
Professionally, the San Diego Sockers, Saltillo Rancho Seco, Brownsville Barracudas, Atletico Baja and others have played in facilities partially or fully exposed to the elements, though the MASL no longer allows those type of facilities.
One other factor in “arena’s” defense is the growth of futsal in the US, which is sometimes also referred to as “indoor soccer.”
And finally, regardless of preference, the current professional league is called the Major Arena Soccer League (and the sport is represented internationally by the US National Arena Soccer Team), and another name change would negatively impact the league as it is finally hitting its stride and developing some much-needed continuity.
The history of the arena name includes the Premier Arena Soccer League, which has existed since 1998, and the Professional Arena Soccer League which preceded the MASL. C. Richard Melvin and Steve Paxos were unsuccessful in their individual attempts to start a new league called the Arena Soccer League.
Tom Higginson, who co-owned Let’s Play, a chain of indoor soccer centers that has open air indoor rinks in California, doesn’t remember the arena name coming up very often. “I don’t ever remember anybody referring to it as arena soccer until right around the time of the new league,” said Higginson, referring to the PASL. “Maybe every now and then but it wasn’t known as arena soccer anywhere that I’m aware of.”
Higginson’s recollection validates Kevin Milliken’s claim that it was the PASL founder himself who originated the term. “I coined it arena soccer, because some of our arenas, specifically Southern California and Mexico, played outdoors,” said Milliken, who is now the MASL’s Vice President of Business Development.
MASL Commissioner Joshua Schaub sees opportunity and potential in the arena name. “We believe the word ‘arena’ is important for our league brand as it denotes a level of play and size, in terms of the venues we currently occupy, and those we desire to occupy,” said Schaub. “The word ‘arena’ further aligns us with a vision of growing our sport back to what it once was, where we played in line with the NBA, in the same arenas. The word ‘indoor’, we believe, denotes more of a broad approach to a brand of soccer, instead of a league. Although fans may recognize it as what they played growing up or even now, we think the relation to our league and the vision is only tangential. We hope to grow our own brand of recognition using the word ‘arena’ so fans correlate our league with a status of large arenas and the associated crowds.”
So while it looks like “arena” is here to stay, the MASL and its teams need to reprogram their communications and develop some uniformity in references to the sport. Old habits will die hard, the way we were still writing 2016 in January. Schaub will have to lead the league and its teams to create consistent messaging going forward as the league continues to grow.