Arena football could be headed back to Albany.
Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber confirmed a Spectrum News Orlando report that the owners of the Orlando Predators in the National Arena League want to run a franchise in Albany starting in 2021.
“We do not currently have a signed agreement, but we are getting close,” Belber said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We expect to have some kind of formal announcement, assuming we get the deal done within the next week or 10 days.”
The Arena Football League, of which the Albany Empire was a member, ceased operations Nov. 27 after filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Empire won the 2019 ArenaBowl title.
Besides the Predators, the other NAL teams are the Carolina Cobras, Columbus (Ga.) Lions, Jacksonville Sharks, Jersey Flight, Louisville Xtreme, Tampa Bay Tornadoes and West Virginia Roughriders. The NAL’s 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The AFL players that can no longer play in the AFL because of the cease of operation, are now playing in the NAL and the IFL [Indoor Football League],” Belber said. “The caliber of play in those two leagues has gone up tremendously.”
It’s possible that the Empire name, several of the players and head coach Rob Keefe could return to Albany.
“I know they’ve already talked to the former Empire head coach Rob Keefe about the possibility of him coming back and coaching, assuming that everything proceeds,” Belber said. “And that would be really cool if he could come back where he won the ArenaBowl title and [coach] here and, hopefully, bring back as many players as he could.
“Until it’s done, it’s not done. I’ve got some calls into the Predators because of the recent media blitz. The phone is on fire right now.”
Albany has a long history with arena football. The Firebirds played in the AFL from 1990-2000, winning the 1999 ArenaBowl title. The team moved to Indianapolis after the 2000 season. Albany got an expansion team in AF2 and played in that league from 2002-09. The AFL then returned to Albany in 2018.
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