NEW YORK (AP) – He never campaigned for the job and had no clue how long it would last. As it turns out, it’s lasted a good long time.

David Baker celebrates his 10th season as Arena Football League commissioner on Tuesday, having seen the AFL go from a struggling sideshow to a profitable, well-established organization with national television contracts and high-profile owners.

“Our goal was and is to be the most fan-friendly league in the world,” said Baker, a former mayor of Anaheim, Calif. “I think it is our privilege to do that, and in our own way we like to think we have had a little bit of a contribution in that regard to other sports now beginning to understand that it’s so important.

“We measure success by the number of autographs our players sign after the game and the fact we’ve given out about 19,000 footballs over 20 years.”

Most of the sports world measures the AFL’s success in other ways. Such as, under Baker’s leadership, attracting nine NFL, NBA or NHL team owners into the league, including the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Washington Redskins’ Daniel Snyder. There was no such cross-ownership in 1996 when Jim Drucker was finishing his stewardship.

Or 19 having franchises valued at $20 million each compared with $400,000 apiece when Baker took over.

Or labor peace through 2010.

Or establishing a thriving minor league, arenafootball2, with teams in 30 smaller cities.

“He’s a great salesman and he totally believes in what he’s selling,” said John Elway, a part-owner of the Colorado Crush and a member of the league’s competition committee. “He’s one of those guys who you can talk to for half an hour and feel like you’ve known for 10 years.”

Baker came to the AFL as owner of his local team, the Piranhas – a franchise that quickly faded from the football landscape.

Ten years ago, he began just his second season involved with the AFL by succeeding Drucker. He actually was drafted the previous year onto one of the league’s advisory committees and there was talk among league owners about making him commissioner after the first AFL meeting he attended.

It hardly was because, at 6-foot-9 and almost 400 pounds, Baker is the most intimidating looking commissioner around. He’s persuasive for sure, but hardly in a threatening way. And he just might be the most visible executive in pro sports.

When Baker attends Arena Football games, he rarely goes into the luxury suites. Instead, he sits in the stands, moving from section to section to talk with fans, hold babies, sign autographs – and sell the AFL.

“I often felt sorry for commissioner Tagliabue,” Baker said. “I was always impressed and maybe a bit envious of all the resources he had, but many times when he would go to a game, he would go from a secure location near the field into a suite, surrounded by security guys. I get to sit in 25 places and talk to people and that has been really special.

“At New York Dragons games, I’ve gotten to know this couple who come in Dragons shirts and with their two little girls who sit on their laps all game, also dressed in Dragons shirt. That’s one of the most fun things; sometimes I don’t think other guys who are more powerful and successful get to experience that.”

Mike Pereira, the NFL director of officiating who also oversees AFL officials, cites Baker’s accessibility as one of his charms.

“What impresses me most about David is that he cares just as much about the fan sitting in the upper deck as he does about the people that own the teams,” Pereira said. “He has developed a family atmosphere for everyone associated with the Arena League, including the officials.”

Baker could go to indoor football games from coast to coast, and he foresees a time when the number of AFL or afl2 teams will reach 100 or more. He reasons that there are nearly 150 minor league baseball teams and almost as many hockey and basketball franchises. The arenas that host those indoor sports have plenty of dates left to fill; the AFL starts play in late January and runs into late June.

And Baker is certain that year-round football is not overkill. He’s supported by the total attendance last season of 1,782,475 for the AFL, and, including afl2, 2.7 million. More than 65 million television viewers watched the games in 2006.

“Football has become America’s passion,” he said. “The guys at ESPN tell me college football has surpassed baseball for viewership. We are on that same stage – people want football year-round. When you are a fan, you don’t stop wanting football because the Super Bowl is over or the college national championship game is over.”

He also hopes to add an international flavor for the league, which has held three Pacific Rim training camps that drew 240 Japanese, Australian and New Zealand players. On other fronts, the EA Sports video game sold about 500,000 copies, and there is a burgeoning fantasy league following.

“The Arena Football League is,” he said, “a great growth experience.”

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