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Monday, December 22, 2003
Baker re-signs for four more years

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- David Baker will remain as commissioner of the Arena Football League for another four years.

Baker agreed Monday to an extension of his deal through 2007. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

"There is no job I would rather have in all of sports," said Baker, who has been in the job for seven years. "I think we are right now strong and stable with, a long future ahead of us."

Since Baker took charge of the indoor league, Arena Football has seen its teams' values increase from $400,000 to $16 million and the overall league sponsorships reach more than $20 million. The league also has a unique 50-50 television agreement with NBC in which no rights fees were paid.

He also has overseen labor peace in the AFL, which has a collective bargaining agreement with its players through 2010.

"In the past seven years, David Baker has shown he is as innovative a leader as there is in sports," said Mark Hamister, Chairman of the AFL Board of Directors and co-owner of the Columbus Destroyers. "The AFL's unprecedented growth during that time would not have been possible without David at the helm."

The AFL is in eight of the top 10 media markets and will open the season in February with 19 franchises and 27 teams in its minor league, arenafootball2. Nine NFL team owners operate current Arena League teams or have the rights to future teams.

One of the newest owners is rock star Jon Bon Jovi, whose Philadelphia Soul begins play in February. Bon Jovi actually approached the league.

"It wouldn't have happened if he wasn't so persistent and wanted it so bad," Baker said.

What Baker wants badly is to see his league continue growing. He has hopes for as many as 32 teams in North America, including franchises in Canada and Mexico, plus a European division and a Pacific rim division.

He also foresees more than 100 af2 teams as a farm system.

"This is our 18th season and that is more than twice as long as any other professional football league in the United States, other than the NFL, and we are going to be here a long time," Baker said. "We talk about looking at a triangle of stability, and we have kind of got that partnership at its peak between our players and officials and network television and our business partners."

Still, Baker acknowledges, the biggest kick he gets is simply sitting in the stands watching AFL games, which he does weekly.

"The end result of all this," he said, "I get to go to those games and work for the 8-year-old and 10-year-old and 12-year-old kids. If that kid is happy, I have done a good job."