ALBANY — The prolonged saga of the Albany Panthers’ future appears to finally be over.
After weeks of speculation about the financial struggles of the Professional Indoor Football League franchise, Panthers owner Rod Chappell told The Herald on Tuesday that he is 99 percent sure there will not be a 2014 season.
“Unless a miracle happens, I don’t see us playing,” Chappell said. “We don’t have anywhere to play right now.”
Chappell was scheduled to meet with city of Albany officials last week in hopes of coming to a deal after the team’s lease agreement was terminated because of a lack of payments dating back to December.
However, no meetings between the city and the team occurred, and a source told The Herald that city officials are now considering contacting an agent to try to recover the money owed, which is around $12,000 for use of the Albany Civic Center plus a percentage of its revenue from concessions.
“Once we made the announcement that we had reached an agreement with the league and were prepared to come to Albany and handle business from the past and future, the city announced that we didn’t have an arena lease anymore, which was the first we had heard about that,” Chappell said. “They told us that there was no way to cure our default. We were told that there was no way we were going to play and that the contract was over.”
City officials sent Chappell a written notice on Jan. 23 informing him that the lease agreement to play at the Civic Center was terminated, but in an email sent to local media on Feb. 11, Chappell wrote that he believed that the team had 30 days from the time of the written notice of termination to cure any default.
Assistant City Manager Wes Smith explained on Tuesday that the clause in the contract that allowed the Panthers 30 days to settle their payments didn’t apply to this situation.
“The contract has such a statement for contract renewal, not a contract breach,” Smith said. “This is not a contract renewal situation.”
The Panthers made a plea to fans and sponsors three weeks ago in an attempt to raise $100,000 to keep their season alive, but Chappell said on Tuesday that immediately after the Jan. 27 press conference a major potential sponsor gave a definite no to any sponsorship or investment.
The Panthers’ future has been up in the air during the three weeks since that press conference, which was the first hint that trouble was brewing for the franchise. Since the announcement, the team has been in damage control.
“A lot of damage has been done to the image and reputation of the team,” he said. “We called around to a couple of other cities, but it’s very late in the game to play anywhere in 2014 if we were to move. That leaves us with nowhere to play our home games.”
The Panthers’ season was originally scheduled to begin March 22 at home against Nashville, but on Feb. 11 Chappell said the league and the team were “finalizing a potential solution which would allow the team to play in 2014 and beyond” and that part of the solution was to move the season opener to April 5.
Now all the dates for the Panthers’ home games have been released by the city, and it’s unclear if there will ever be another Panthers game played in the Civic Center.
Along with the local fans who watched the Panthers win back-to-back league championships in 2011 and 2012, Panthers coach Lucious Davis has been kept in the dark about recent developments of the franchise.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Davis admitted on Tuesday. “One minute I am hearing yes, and then one minute I’m hearing no.”
Davis said the true victims are the fans and players.
“Ultimately they are the ones getting hurt by this,” he said. “I hate that things are going the way they are going. (The players) are having it tough because it’s like, ‘OK, am I going to play or am I not going to play? Do I sign with somebody else or not?’ Everybody is in a funk right now.”
Davis said that the team typically begins practice three weeks before the season opener but that no practices have been scheduled yet. Davis also said that in his four years as head coach of the team neither he nor his players ever had issues getting paid.
“Checks were on time, and none of them bounced,” he said.
Despite Davis and his players getting paid on time over the past four years, Chappell, the team’s sole owner, said that the Panthers franchise hasn’t exactly been lucrative.
“While this is exciting and sports-related, which is a passion for me, over the past four seasons I have lost about $250,000,” Chappell said. “The reason I even continued to do this was because I thought there was a possibility for some economic development in the Albany area, but that’s been very slow to happen in 2 ½ years. And I don’t see an end to it.”
When asked about the possibility of returning to Albany for a 2015 season, Chappell was reluctant to give a definitive answer.
“I am a little emotional about this right now, and I don’t want to make any emotional, irrational decisions,” he said. “We are going to get past what has happened now, but we haven’t closed the door to 2015.”