AFL Teams Close Operations
Courtesy: TimesUnion.com (Albany)
The Albany Empire and five other Arena Football League franchises are closing local business operations, the Times Union has learned, but the league has yet to determine whether it will suspend operations completely.
Coaches, front-office staff and the players union were informed Tuesday afternoon of the league’s decision to shut down team services in individual markets. The AFL is seeking a path for financial solvency, a verdict that is said to be forthcoming.
A multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against the league by an insurance carrier that provided workers compensation coverage between 2009 and 2012 — before the current administration was involved — has caused the AFL to reevaluate its business model.
Randall Boe, who took over as commissioner in advance of the 2018 season, confirmed the report when reached by phone.
“We haven’t made a decision on whether to completely suspend operations,” Boe said. “That’s a decision that will probably be made in the next several weeks. We do know, under any set of circumstances, we will not be continuing to operate business operation units in our local markets. We will be closing those business operations in our local markets, including Albany.”
If it moves forward, the AFL may become a traveling league, similar to the Premier Lacrosse League, whereby all players practice in a centralized location and fly to a different city each weekend to play games.
“We have been evaluating that as a potential model to go forward and keep the league alive,” Boe said. “I hesitate to say that we have a sense that that is likely to be successful. It’s the thing that we’re looking at. We really don’t see an alternative to that.”
The Arena Football League has existed since 1987, excluding a suspension of operations in 2009 because of financial instability, but under several different regimes.
The league restructured itself before last season, following the Major League Soccer single-entity structure by taking control of all franchises. Those who previously owned individual teams became shareholders. The Empire’s ownership group included Albany businessmen Daniel Nolan, Ed Swyer and George Hearst III, who is publisher of the Times Union.
After surviving with just four teams in 2018, the AFL expanded to six for the most recent season and hoped to continue that growth incrementally. Current franchises are located in Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Atlantic City, Columbus and Albany.
“We had this unified structure for one season, and it paid dividends very quickly,” Boe said. “We were all optimistic. It simply required more capital to be able to grow that way and continue with that model than we were able raise.”
Albany arguably was the league’s most successful franchise during its tenure. In both seasons, the Empire sported the league’s best regular-season record (8-4 and 10-2) and home attendance (9,714 and 10,053 per game).
A crowd of 12,042 filled Times Union Center on Aug. 11 for the Empire’s 45-27 victory over the Philadelphia Soul in the ArenaBowl XXXII championship game. It was the city’s second AFL title, following a 1999 by the Albany Firebirds, who occupied the downtown arena between 1990 and 2000.
Team employees will be paid for two weeks. Under the collective bargaining agreement reached in March 2018, all players become free agents each year, so they are not restricted from playing in other indoor football leagues. The coaches, including Albany’s Rob Keefe, could be retained if a traveling league is adopted, although Boe indicated that the league likely wouldn’t block anyone who has another opportunity.
“This is something that I and George (Hearst) and all of our other investors really believe in and have come to love the game and have a ton of respect for the players and the fans and all the folks that work for us,” Boe said. “It is really profoundly disappointing to be at this point.
“All of us are going to keep playing until time runs out. No one’s quitting yet. I can’t tell you that I think the odds are good, but no one is quitting. You play until the final gun goes off, and that’s what we’re going to do. If we can come up with a way to keep the league going that makes sense for everyone, then we would do that.”