Arena Football League (2004-2008)
Born: May 13, 2003 – AFL expansion franchise.
Died: October 13, 2008 – The Voodoo cease operations.
Arena: New Orleans Arena (16,021)
Team Colors: Purple, Black & Red
Owner: Tom Benson
The (original) New Orleans Voodoo were a tremendously popular Arena Football League team that played in the city from 2004-2005 and 2007-2008. The team shut down for the 2006 season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and saw most of its roster dispersed to the AFL’s Kansas City Brigade expansion team. But the Voodoo returned to New Orleans Arena in 2007 and were more popular than ever, setting an all-time league record with the reported sale of over 13,000 season tickets.
An earlier Arena Football League entry in the city – the New Orleans Night (1991-1992) – came and went quietly after two seasons in the Superdome. But the AFL was a small-time curiosity in the early 90′s. By the turn of the century, the league started to attract investment from NFL owners, including Arthur Blank (Georgia), Pat Bowlen (Colorado) and Jerry Jones (Dallas). The great strength of the Voodoo was their backing from New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc. The LeBlanc’s put the power of the Saints brand, infrastructure and sales machine behind the Voodoo and turned New Orleans into a showcase city for the league.
During their four season’s of play, the Voodoo were never a factor in competition for the Arena Bowl championship. They made the playoffs in only one season, their debut in 2004. The team was prone – one might even say cursed? (sorry) – by late season collapses after strong starts. But the value proposition of the Voodoo was never based on winning. It derived from the organization’s outstanding game day production, which included the Voodoo Dolls dancing team, mascots Bones and Mojo, and an exploding cemetery set loaded with indoor pyrotechnics for pre-game player intros. The league chose New Orleans Arena – the “Graveyard” to Voodoo fans – as the neutral site host for its signature annual event, the Arena Bowl, in back-to-back seasons in 2007 and 2008. The 2008 Arena Bowl would prove to be the last event ever staged by the original Arena Football League.
The Voodoo continued to be one of Arena Football’s best box office draws during their fourth season in 2008. Announced average attendance of 14,321 ranked fifth in the 17-team league. Although the league showed the outward trappings of success – big attendance figures, a broadcast television contract and major brands attached as national sponsors – the league was reportedly $24 million in debt and had relied for years on a speculative bubble in expansion fees which was now starting to deflate. Most teams lost money and the NFL owners, in particular, were growing restive and pushing for big changes in the business model. In the summer of 2008, reports emerged that the league was in negotiations with Los Angeles private equity firm Platinum Equity for a rumored $100 million buyout that would convert the AFL to a single-entity business model. What wasn’t clear at first was that some sort of buyout was necessary to keep the league going.
On October 13, 2008, Tom Benson folded the Voodoo franchise. The bombshell announcement stunned Arena Football fans in New Orleans and elsewhere. After the Voodoo’s demise, the dominoes fell quickly. The Platinum Equity deal fell apart the following month, leaving the AFL’s remaining 16 owners the prospect of funding big losses in 2009 on their own, without any infusion of new capital. In December 2008, 12 of the league 16 clubs voted to cancel the 2009 season, with the big NFL investors leading the charge for the exits. In August 2009 the league entered bankruptcy and effectively folded for good.
A group of the less wealthy (non-NFL) club owners and owners from the league Arena Football 2 minor league system bought the banktupt league’s name and intellectual property at auction in late 2009 and re-formed the league in 2010. A minor league club from Bossier-Shreveport, Louisiana relocated to New Orleans Arena in 2011 and took back the Voodoo brand identity. The Bensons and the Saints have no involvement in this new, much lower-budgeted version of the Voodoo and fan interest has no approach anything close to the original team.
==Voodoo Games on Fun While It Lasted==
|2005||4/16/2005||vs. Columbus Destroyers||W 64-28||Program|
The Voodoo host the Orlando Predators at Orlando Arena. March 9, 2008