DULUTH - After a three-year experiment in Atlanta, the Georgia Force franchise is coming back to Gwinnett County.
Officials from the Arena Football League team confirmed Tuesday that it has agreed to a 10-year deal with the Arena at Gwinnett Center beginning with the 2008 season. An official announcement of the deal will be made today during a press conference at the Duluth arena.
The motivations for the move included more affordable lower-level seating closer to the game action in Gwinnett, better tailgating opportunities and free parking. The Arena at Gwinnett Center, also home to the ECHL's Gwinnett Gladiators ice hockey team, boasts 5,000 free parking spaces.
The Force played at Atlanta's Philips Arena in 2002, the first season after the franchise moved from Nashville, but held games the following two seasons at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, where it developed a substantial suburban fan base.
When Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank purchased the Force from local businessman Virgil Williams in August 2004, Blank moved the team back downtown although it still holds practices at the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch.
During the two-year stay in Gwinnett, the Force drew an average of 9,126 fans in 2003 and 9,160 in 2004. Both of those season openers featured a capacity crowd of 11,200 and only one game in Gwinnett drew fewer than 8,000 fans.
The Force averaged 11,369 games last season at Philips Arena when the 14-2 team won its second Southern Division championship in three seasons under Blank's ownership. Georgia, which advanced to the Arena Bowl in 2005, was led last season by quarterback Chris Greisen, who threw an AFL-record 117 touchdown passes last year, and two-time AFL coach of the year Doug Plank.
The club has gone 33-15 since 2005, including a 20-4 record in home games. The 33-win total is the second-best in the AFL during that time period.
Current Georgia Force season ticket holders will be able to renew their accounts at the same price point as the 2007 season, but in most cases those fans will have seats closer to the field than they had at Philips Arena. Fans with 200 level season tickets at Philips will get 100 level seats in Gwinnett.