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Did Albany NY just witness the worst S$&# Show in Professional Sports go up in Flames?


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This does not have anything to do with UAlbany Sports, however, sometimes I wonder will the Capital District ever show much interest in the "minor" leagues of professional sports going forward if there was any true interest left.

The moment when I heard Antonio Brown was involved, I knew this day would come... just not this fast.

League cancels Empire

Albany has membership terminated by NAL for failure to pay dues


By Mark Singelais

Lori Van Buren / Times Union

Team owner Antonio Brown said the Empire would leave the NAL for the Arena Football League.

ALBANY — Antonio Brown’s turbulent ownership of the Albany Empire took a stunning turn on Thursday when the arena football franchise was kicked out of the National Arena League.

The NAL announced Thursday it terminated the Empire’s membership agreement “after an emergency conference call of the members in good standing to discuss the Empire’s failure to pay their league-mandated and overdue assessments.”

The NAL said each team is responsible to pay for one-seventh of the league’s operating budget via monthly assessments starting in April. The league also said Brown, the majority owner and former NFL All-Pro wide receiver, was fined $1,000 for conduct detrimental to the league for recent public comments. Brown refused to pay the fine, according to the league.

The Empire were scheduled to play the Jacksonville Sharks on Saturday at MVP Arena. That game and the other six remaining games are canceled, including home games July 1 against the Fayetteville Mustangs and July 22 vs. the Carolina Cobras.

NAL commissioner Chris Siegfried said Brown missed a noon Thursday deadline to pay a $21,000 assessment owed to the league.

“That deadline was made because we have a (Jacksonville) team that’s supposed to fly up there this evening and then we had to give them time to either stop the flight or get up there,” Siegfried said. “The owners decided enough is enough and he’s either going to be a good partner or he’s not.”

MVP Arena said all season and individual ticket holders will be refunded for the remaining three home games. Refunds can be obtained at the original point of purchase.

The NAL said it will be adjusting the rest of the 2023 regular-season schedule and will announce the updated schedule in the near future.

The Empire, who won the past two NAL titles before Brown became owner, finished the season 1-6 and on a six-game losing streak.

“Major league not minors,” Brown tweeted shortly after the announcement. He didn’t immediately respond to a text for reaction.

Brown practiced with the Empire on Wednesday in preparation to possibly play in Saturday’s game. Afterward, he said the Empire would leave the NAL after the season for the Arena Football League, which is returning next year.

“We’ve got a lot to be excited about here,” Brown said Wednesday. “Don’t let the minutiae of people distract us. This is the last year in the NAL. Next year we’re going to the AFL. Not a lot of owners around here have got this type of money to even be in this league.”

Brown wasn’t present at Thursday morning’s practice.

The Empire are in the final year of a three-year contract with MVP Arena. Bob Belber, the arena general manager, said last month the arena will look at all available options at the end of the season.

Thursday’s news was the latest controversy surrounding Brown, the son of former Albany Firebirds great “Touchdown” Eddie Brown. Antonio Brown purchased part-ownership of the team in March and then bought out partner Mike Kwarta for $1 in April to assume 95 percent control of the team.

Albany was on its fourth head coach this season, Moe Leggett, and had a revolving door of players every week. The Empire started three quarterbacks with a fourth, Dalton Cole, joining the team this week.

Off the field, several players left the team after they were not paid and not given their hotel room keys in early May following a loss.

Earlier this month, Antonio Brown was asked to leave the team hotel in Albany when police responded to complaints about loud music and marijuana use.

Brown said he was going to play May 27 at home against Fayetteville, a game that drew a much larger crowd than the average of 2,500. But Brown didn’t play with the Empire, blaming paperwork from his physical that wasn’t filed in time.

Last week, Brown called the NAL a “trash league” in a since-deleted tweet responding to insults from Orlando Predators co-owner John Cheney.

The NAL’s move isn’t completely without precedent. Last December, the league announced the removal of the Columbus Lions franchise following a Board of Directors call.

▶› msingelais@- timesunion.com A 518-454-5509 A @MarkSingelais


Edited by cwdickens
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Coach, players in ‘shock’

Teammates head out after Albany is kicked out of arena league


By Mark Singelais

Mark Singelais / Times Union

Albany Empire quarterback Dalton Cole, left, spoke Thursday with offensive coordinator Paul Tonic and wide receiver Fabian Guerra after what turned out to be the team’s final practice of the season. The National Arena League kicked the Empire out of the league on Thursday.

Albany Empire head coach Moe Leggett packed up his belongings in his office Thursday afternoon. The season was over with seven games remaining.

“I’m just in shock,” he said.


Leggett found out from his players the Empire were kicked out of the National Arena League. The NAL announced Thursday the owners voted to oust the Empire because majority owner Antonio Brown failed to pay $21,000 in assessments to the league before a noon deadline.

Leggett was sitting in a staff meeting, getting ready for Saturday’s scheduled game against the Jacksonville Sharks, when players knocked on the door with the news.

A former NFL defensive back, Leggett made his head coaching debut last Friday in a loss at Orlando, just a week after retiring as an Empire player. Now he plans to move Saturday to the Atlanta area, where he co-owns a gym, Elite Fit 4 Life.

“I was planning on moving up here to look for a place,” he said. “I like it. It’s peaceful up here. But all of a sudden, I can’t make that decision unless something just pops up immediately.”

Leggett said he was still trying to make sure his players got home. They had to check out of their rooms Thursday at the Howard Johnson hotel on Central Avenue in Albany. They moved there after an incident this month when Brown was asked to leave their previous hotel, the Holiday Inn Express on Broadway.

Though he expressed no bitterness toward Brown, Leggett said players were paying their own way home.

“We’re on our own right now,” Leggett said.

New quarterback Dalton Cole waited at Albany International Airport for a flight back to Asheville, N.C. He left his job with College HUNKS, a moving company, on Tuesday to come to Albany. On Wednesday, he threw passes in practice to Brown, the former NFL All-Pro receiver, who was contemplating a return.

The Empire practiced again on Thursday morning. Then Cole and a few teammates went back to the hotel and saw the news on Facebook.

“It was kind of like, ‘No way, it’s a joke,’ ” Cole said. “Then I went and Googled it and it popped up on the Twitter page, so then we were like, ‘Oh, no, it’s got to be for real.’ ”

Now Cole is left to look for an opportunity with another NAL team, or possibly in the new Arena Football League that begins play next year.

“It’s nothing personal with AB (Brown), I just wished it worked out better,” said Cole, who played in college at Division III Brevard. “I thought I got an opportunity, the kid from a small town, finally getting a chance, and I got the legs swiped out from under me two days before we got an opportunity. The whole team feels that way, too. Talking to a lot of guys, it was like, ‘We’re finally gelling. We’ve finally got some hope.’ ”

The Empire won their season opener, then lost six straight games heading into Saturday’s canceled game.

Albany receiver Daquan Patten waited Thursday after checking into another hotel. He was talking to his agent about possible NAL openings. All the Empire players are now NAL free agents. He might head home to South Carolina and wait for another chance in an arena or outdoor league.

“I feel like God closed one door to open another one,” he said.

Patten has a family history that goes back to Albany’s early days in arena football. His late father, David, played for the Albany Firebirds in 1996 before moving on to a long NFL career that included stops with the Giants and Patriots.

Now arena football is over in Albany, at least for this season.

“Very surprised, honestly,” Patten said. “It was a normal day, as far as I was concerned. We kind of got the news as we were leaving the facility.”

Despite the way it ended, Patten declined to criticize Brown for his management of the team.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “There were a lot of weeks when management decided to release a lot of players and this last month, it was very hectic, but I was given an opportunity to lace up my shoulder pads and my cleats every weekend, so for that, I’ll always be grateful.”

▶› msingelais@- timesunion.com A 518-454-5509 A @MarkSingelais

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Out of the pile of broken dreams, unfilled promises and unpaid bills by Antonio Brown comes hope for a new team:

MVP Arena leader promises football to return next year

Belber talking with 2 prospective ownership groups


By Mark Singelais

Jim Franco / Times Union archive

Nick Haag and the Albany Empire ended the 2022 season by winning a National Arena League championship at MVP Arena in Albany. The team’s 2023 season closed with it being tossed from the league. Arena manager Bob Belber said he's in talks to house a team for next season.

Will Waldron / Times Union

MVP Arena General Manager Bob Belber said Tuesday he’s certain the building will have an arena football team next year to replace the Albany Empire, who were kicked out of the National Arena League last week.

MVP General Manager Bob Belber guaranteed Tuesday that arena football will return to Albany next year.

Belber said he’s talking to two prospective ownership groups who are “genuinely excited” about filling the void left at the arena when the National Arena League kicked out the Albany Empire this month, abruptly ending the season with seven games remaining.

“There definitely will be an arena football team that will play in Albany in 2024,” Belber said Tuesday. “I’m positive of that and I’m not even the least bit worried about whether there will be. There will be.”

Belber said the competing groups, one led by former Empire owner Ron Tridico, are looking to join either the NAL or the Indoor Football League. Belber said he’ll receive proposals from both candidates and expects to have a team in place “within the next 45 days,” which projects to early August.

MVP Arena has to offer its availability dates to any arena league by August for a schedule release in September or early October, according to Belber.

“The good thing is you’ve got people that have the wherewithal and passion to want to bring a team in here, which is wonderful,” Belber said.

Tridico’s interest was first reported by WTEN (Ch. 10). Belber declined to reveal the other group, which Belber said has arena football experience. Belber said it’s not the group that ran the successful Albany Empire of the Arena Football League in 2018 and 2019, before that league folded.

“Quite frankly with all the recent events, I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing this back to them with any confidence that we could be as successful as we once were and it being a worthwhile venture,” texted George Manias, former president and CEO of the AFL’s Empire.

Reached in Costa Rica, where he spends part of the year, Tridico confirmed he and his three adult children are interested in bringing a team back to Albany.

“We’re taking a look at it after that, we’ll call it, debacle,” Tridico said. “We want to get back to the states next week to plan. I’ll sit down and really go over it.”

Tridico said a new team would probably play under a different name than Empire.

Tridico, who also lives in Florida, helped revive the Empire as co-owner with Nate Starling in 2021. The Empire won the NAL title that year and repeated in 2022 after Tridico sold his shares to Capital Region businessman Mike Kwarta, who assumed majority ownership.

This year, Kwarta brought aboard former NFL All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and later sold his shares to Brown for $1. With multiple changes at head coach and quarterback, along with off-field incidents, the Empire lost six games in a row.

The NAL dismissed the Empire last Thursday after Brown missed a deadline to pay a $21,000 league assessment, according to league commissioner Chris Siegfriend. Brown’s accountant, Alex Gunaris, said in an email that they asked the NAL for proof that other teams made payments on time “to verify we were being treated fairly due to some other issues we dealt with.” Gunaris said they never received that proof.

Tridico said he got out of the Empire ownership because he thought the franchise would be better off under a local owner. Tridico also wanted to focus on his co-ownership of the NAL’s Orlando Predators, but he’s no longer involved with the Predators.

“I think Albany would do well,” Tridico said. “I’m just hoping that after the, we’ll call it, 2023 circus show, we haven’t burnt the market completely. Burnt the fans out mentally with the AB show.”

Tridico also expressed concern about New York workers’ compensation costs. Kwarta said the team’s policy cost $1.5 million this year, verified by a document provided by Gunaris.

In 2021, the Empire practiced in Connecticut, but played games at MVP Arena. Tridico said he paid $20,000 in workman’s compensation that year.

“You can’t make the team in New York with New York state workman’s comp,” Tridico said. “You base it out of Connecticut.”

Belber said he doesn’t think the controversy of the past few months has damaged arena football in Albany. If a team comes, it will be the fifth arena football franchise to play at MVP Arena since 1990.

The Albany Firebirds and Empire both played in the Arena Football League. Plans have been announced for an AFL relaunch in 2024, but details remain vague.

“I think arena football is something that is very much liked and it’s something people have a lot of passion for in Albany,” he said. “If it’s presented right with the right team and right coaching and right front office, we’ve seen how arena football can bring in 12,000 people per game. There’s been a variety of different attendances over the years, but it’s a sport a lot of people enjoy.”

▶› Julian Silva-Forbes contributed to this story

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15 hours ago, UAlbany09 said:

Really wish we had a D1 hockey program. The arena is right there to use with not much else going on in it. I’ve always thought how fun a Beanpot style tournament would be between Union, RPI and a UAlbany team. 

Winner winner chicken dinner!

I went to a Devils game late before they left and I regretted not going to more. It was awesome. Sat by the boards for cheap.

Edited by Eli
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Coaches, players to sue Brown

Say pay for Empire’s last game pulled from their bank accounts


By Mark Singelais

Lori Van Buren / Times Union

Albany Empire head coach Moe Leggett, left, shown covering owner Antonio Brown during a practice, now says members of the team plan to file a class-action lawsuit against Brown.

The head coach of the Albany Empire said members of the arena football team are planning a class-action lawsuit against owner Antonio Brown after all the players and coaches discovered the paychecks from their final game were pulled from their bank accounts.

The National Arena League kicked out the Empire on June 15, six days after they played their last game, a loss at the Orlando Predators.


“I’m frustrated,” Empire head coach Moe Leggett said. “I’m frustrated. I tried to give (Brown) the benefit of the doubt. I tried to work with him. I was trying to be the peacemaker, the mediator to make sure things ran smoothly and just under the radar. But I can no longer do that.”

The news of the pulled paychecks was first reported by WTEN (Ch. 10).

Leggett said team members were paid last Thursday and Friday for the Orlando game. But a member of their group chat on Wednesday night posted a screenshot of the bank account reversal. When Leggett checked his account the next morning, his paycheck had also been deducted.

Leggett says players are still owed amounts of $500 and up for their final game. Leggett said he tried to reach Brown, the former NFL All-Pro wide receiver, his accountant Alex Gunaris and team president Alberony Denis without success.

Efforts by the Times Union to reach Brown, Gunaris and Denis were unsuccessful.

Leggett said he’s looking for a lawyer to file a lawsuit against Brown and the trust of which Brown is a representative.

Empire wide receiver Fabian Guerra quickly found another playing job after the Empire ended. He’s playing for the Massachusetts Pirates, an Indoor Football League team in Worcester, Mass. He said he would join a lawsuit against Brown.

“I’m thinking since he didn’t pay us, it’s only the right thing to do,” Guerra said. “It’s kind of like bad business by him, but I’m over here in Massachusetts and playing with a new team, so I’m not worried. It sucks it has to come down to that and now there’s going to be a lawsuit, so he just looks bad.”

Guerra had an amicable relationship with Brown, who is also a rapper. They had worked out together in Miami, where both were raised.

“I feel like this was his plan all along,” Guerra said. “I feel like he does stuff for social media and to sell his songs. I think it’s just what he does. That’s the type of guy he is. No one trusts him anymore. I see it hard for him to get any future deals going because of how he is as a person.”

Empire lineman Brandon Thorpe, who is from Georgia, said he is staying at a friend’s house in Troy until he gets his paycheck back.

“My feelings are everywhere because I feel like he’s basically doing us so wrong to the point of no return,” Thorpe texted.

The fall of the Empire could lead to a flurry of litigation. MVP Arena general manager Bob Belber said this week he considers the Empire to be in default of their license agreement with the arena. That agreement was due to expire after this season.

The NAL kicked out the Empire after an emergency vote by the league owners. Commissioner Chris Siegfried said Brown owed $21,000 in league assessment fees.

“We have certain damages we’re going to be demanding from the Empire ownership,” Belber said. “Assuming there’s a favorable response to that, then everything can be worked out and we’ll get paid hopefully the damages that we’ll be owed. If it doesn’t, then we’ll see what other actions we may have to take.”

▶› msingelais@timesunion.com 518-454-550 A @MarkSingelais

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