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Albany Is Getting Back In The Arena Football Game

football field
WAMC File Photo

Whenever it’s safe for spectator sports to come back, arena football is returning to Albany.

After the Albany Empire went from a championship to an Arena Football League bankruptcy in less than a year, Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber says Albany is getting back in the game.


"It's like the sun coming out of clouds. Some good news. With a new team coming into Albany, playing a sport that our fans have been so in love with for so many years. Just this past year, in 2019, the average attendance at regular season games and playoff games was over 10,000 people per game. And the Arena Bowl Championship, which our Albany team, Albany Empire won, was over 12,000 people in the stands. So when you lose something like that, you can take a position of 'we lost it, that's too bad,' or we can take a position of 'let's get it back.' So that's what we did. We went out, we tried to find someone that would come back and bring this sport back and bring the best team possible back.”

The National Arena League says Albany will join its nine other teams for the 2021 season. The new team’s ownership signed a three-year deal to play at the Times Union Center.

NAL Commissioner Chris Siegfried:

"It's interesting. We have three defending champions in our league. The Jacksonville Sharks, who are the NAL champion, the West Virginia Roughriders were the champions from the AAL, and of course, the Albany Empire, so... It's interesting when you have an expansion team like Albany, everybody's gonna be out to get 'em, so they need to load up and get a good fire up on the field because they got nine other teams chompin' at takin' 'em down, so it'll be fun. As Commissioner, I get to enjoy all those exciting games without the stress of coaching 'em and stuff, so we're super-excited about Albany."

Siegfried says the season will start in April 2021, run through July, with playoffs coming in August. Social distancing and cleansing protocols are still being worked out.

“The city of Albany, New York deserves to have Arena Football for 20, 30, 40 years down the road. And that’s the goal. We want this game to be here forever, and Albany’s a huge piece of that, especially as we develop our Northern Division or Northern section of our league.”

The team has a three-year agreement with the Times Union Center. The Albany Empire existed for two years before the league declared bankruptcy and ceased operations this year.

The Albany ownership group says it's looking to carry on with the Empire or Firebirds name. Talks are under way with some of the old Empire team members about signing on to the new franchise.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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