ATLANTIC CITY — Arena Football League and Atlantic City franchise officials were optimistic Thursday the city’s new team will be able to avoid the problems that doomed other professional sports ventures.
AFL Commissioner Randall Boe, Trifecta Sports President George Manias and Trifecta Sports co-owner and AFL Executive Committee Chairman Ron Jaworski all expressed confidence that the unnamed franchise will succeed in the city during an introductory news conference at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
“We’ve been through this kind of thing before,” said Manias, whose company owns the AFL’s Albany Empire and Philadelphia Soul and will operate the Atlantic City franchise. “Albany had been through three minor-league hockey teams and two indoor football teams before we got there (last year). The Empire led the league in attendance last season and was the top seed going into the playoffs.
“One of the most important things we’re going to do is get involved with the community. Tourists will be the least part of our fan base. We’ll be heavily involved with the community, with local schools and businesses, to drum up interest in the team.”
It helps that Jaworski has some experience in dealing with the Atlantic City area.
The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback was responsible for bringing the Maxwell Football Club annual awards gala to town 16 years ago. Its banquet will be held March 8 this year at Tropicana Atlantic City.
In May 2015, he also brought an Arena League game to Boardwalk Hall, when the Soul took on the now-defunct Las Vegas Outlaws, which drew an announced crowd of 6,514.
He also owns Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township.
“People asked me why Atlantic City? Why Boardwalk Hall?” Jaworski said as confetti fell. “First of all, I live about 30 miles from here, and I’ve always seen Boardwalk Hall as a perfect venue for an Arena Football League franchise.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to see this finally happen. I can’t wait to see 10,000 people screaming and hollering for their team. This is for the people of Atlantic City and the nearby communities. This is your team!”
Jaworski also spoke about the team’s desire to be heavily involved with the community, something he’s been for years.
In August 2013, Jaworski’s nonprofit, Jaws Youth Playbook, donated $30,000 to the Atlantic County Junior Football League’s Ventnor Pirates after the team’s Titus Field Complex was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
“I was bawling like a baby when I went to the opening-day ceremony,” Jaworski said. “Getting involved in projects like that is what I’m all about, and that’s what this team is going to be all about.”
The team also formally announced partnerships with TownSquare Media, which will broadcast games on 97.3 ESPN, and Ocean Casino Resort. Atlantic City players will stay there during training camp, which will be held in early April. Referees and opposing players will stay there during the season.
In January, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority unanimously approved a three-year agreement with the AFL. CRDA will make available $500,000 in capital expenditures to buy equipment to convert Boardwalk Hall with improvements that include sidewall padding, nets and goal posts.
There is still some key work to be done, namely naming the team.
Manias said the team received more than 1,750 submissions in its naming contest and the field was narrowed to five finalists: Blackjacks, Gamblers, High Rollers, Jackpot and Royals. The name has already been selected, but it will not be formally announced, along with its logo, uniforms, merchandise, etc., until early March, he said.
It is no coincidence that the team name is tied to gambling.
Team and league officials both see legalized sports betting as a huge component of the game-day experience. Boe said fans will be able to wager on every Arena League game from Atlantic City’s seven sportsbooks. The league is also working with Boardwalk Hall to develop technology that will allow fans to place in-game bets from their seats.
“The Atlantic City franchise and sports betting is a match made in heaven,” Boe said. “What we’re working to develop and roll out in time for the season is a platform so you’ll be able to sit there with your phone, and whether you’re at the game here or at the beach or wherever you are, you can watch our games, bet on our games, manage your fantasy team. It will be the greatest thing in sports and make this even more interesting and fun to be a part of.”