For Our Loyal Arena Fans, It’s Deja-Vu All Over Again
The Empire is crumbling. Fans of the Albany Empire, world champions following their second season of re-emergence into the Arena Football League, may not even get to see the championship banner raised at the start of the next season. It appears highly unlikely there will be a next season after news broke today that the league is in serious financial jeopardy. Ironically enough, this comes 20 years after the Albany Firebirds won their one and only AFL title in 1999. Following that season, the Firebirds left Albany for dead and headed to Indianapolis pursuing greener pastures and more money. The situation with our Empire is different, but it appears the outcome may be the same.
According to sources, AFL owners and officials are considering ways to keep the league alive and haven't quite admitted to a complete a collapse yet. But the league appears to be on life support and according to the Times Union, all 6 teams have suspended football operations. Employees of the Albany Empire are currently seeking other employment.
When the Arena League announced two years ago that Albany was getting a franchise back, there was a renewed sense of vigor and excitement here in the Capital Region. The Albany Empire with their passionate fiery coach and elite players made Saturday nights in Albany exciting again. The fans turned out in big numbers and we fell in love with a prettier version of the girl that dumped us 20 years ago.
Led by head coach Rob Keefe and star wideout Malachi Jones, the Capital Region was seduced by the bright lights, dancing girls, explosive fireworks, and a damn good team that dazzled us on their way to two successful seasons and a world title. Ignoring what was happening around the league, where attendance was abysmal, it appeared that the AFL was at least stable. Albany regularly drew over 9000 fans to games where the rest of the league was the lucky to get half of that on a regular basis. Albany was most definitely the Arena League's cash cow, while he other franchises appeared to producing spoiled milk.
Local fans are bummed, we feel cheated, it's already an empty feeling and it's not even 'official' yet. But we've been down this road before, and it usually doesn't end well. How many times have you heard this: Albany can't keep and support professional sports teams here in town...everybody leaves Albany.
That's only partially true, and while teams do leave here, it's not our fault. We loved and supported the Albany Firebirds and when they left us for Indianapolis, attendance flopped and the team disbanded a few years later. If the Albany Empire have in fact played their last game in Albany, it's not because of us. The loyal fans (many of whom waited 20 years for a team to come back) supported the heck out of this team. The team was great, the players connected on and off the field, the fans were as passionate, and the Empire games were as fun as ever. Even though their time in Albany appears to be short-lived, it's not because fans didn't support it, it's because the league only had fans in Albany.
Maybe they can save the league and we can raise that championship banner at the start of the 2020 season. Or hell, maybe the league can operate with one traveling team (that would more than likely be the Albany Empire) but it doesn't seem likely.
Feels like deja-vu all over again.