Albany Panthers owner Rod Chappell, left, and general manager Will Carter announced on Monday that their franchise needs to raise around $100,000 in the next week or the 2014 season will be cancelled. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
Albany Panthers 2014 season in jeopardy
Rod Chappell, owner of the Albany Panthers, and Will Carter, general manager, meet with the media Monday afternoon to discuss the prospects of the Panthers getting on the field this season. The team is scheduled to open March 22 at the Albany Civic Center. Chappell says the team needs to raise an additional $100,000 in a week to play this year.
ALBANY — The Albany Panthers, one of the Professional Indoor Football League’s premier teams, is making an 11th-hour plea to sponsors and fans in a bid to keep its 2014 season alive.
Panthers owner Rod Chappell said Monday that the PIFL has given the team a deadline of one week to raise at least $100,000 or the two-time league champions will be forced to cancel the season, which is slated to begin March 22 with a home game at the Albany Civic Center.
“A fifth season is in jeopardy as of today,” Chappell said. “With less than two months to kickoff, the Panthers are in need of additional sponsorship and season ticket sales in order to make it to the field.”
Chappell wouldn’t specify which sponsors the team is reaching out to — or which major sponsors have already helped the team raise about $400,000 for this season — but he said there are several still “sitting on the fence.”
“There is an equation we use every year where sponsorships make up a significant portion of the revenue we have for the team,” said Chappell, who added that season ticket sales, advance ticket sales and investors also can help keep the team afloat. “Over this offseason, we have a significant amount of sponsors that have not renewed yet. So this is a call-out for those sponsors.”
It’s not the first year the Panthers, who have been a franchise since January 2010, have struggled financially, but Chappell said the budget deficit in previous seasons had been small enough for him to personally cover.
This year, the team’s immediate future depends on the public, and Panthers coach Lucious Davis believes his team has built a significant fan base in Southwest Georgia over the past four years.
“I believe the city loves the team,” Davis said. “I believe the team means a great deal to this city.”
Davis said the possible cancellation of the season was devastating news to his players.
“This means a lot to them,” he said. “For some of these guys, this is their world. A lot of guys live for this. A few of us have talked about it the last couple of days, but it is what it is. The only thing I can tell those guys is to be positive and keep working out. That’s all I can tell them.”
The Panthers ended the 2013 season with a 7-6 record and saw their streak of league titles come to an end with a semifinal loss to Alabama.
Not only did the loss snap a two-year streak of league championship titles, but it was also the final game for several of the franchise’s most recognizable players, including quarterback Cecil Lester. Joining Lester in retirement were receivers Clenton Rafe and Antwone Savage and fullback Derrick Wimbush, while star defensive back Damien Daniels decided to sign with the Columbus Lions.
In October, Panthers general manager Will Carter announced the signings of 12 players for the 2014 season — but now the future of the Albany Panthers and the careers of those players are in limbo.
Chappell said talk of bringing the franchise back for the 2015 season even if it can’t raise sufficient funds to field a team in 2014 has been considered, but as of now he was “only discussing 2014.”
“We want to field a team,” he said. “Should that not happen, it would be very disappointing. We have been one of, if not the most successful franchise over the past four years in indoor football sports.”
The news of the Panthers’ financial struggles comes just months after the PIFL announced a league expansion after two profitable seasons since its 2012 inception. Without the Panthers, the PIFL would drop to a seven-team league and leave the Columbus Lions as the only franchise in Georgia.
To purchase advance tickets or to provide sponsorship to the team, fans can call the Panthers’ office at (229) 435-1230. In the event of the cancellation of the 2014 season, any sponsorships or ticket purchases with be fully refunded, Chappell said.