Sports Editor Will Hammock
Though the official announcement hasn't been made, it doesn't look good for the Georgia Force.
The Arena Football League's latest effort to keep the Force in the Arena at Gwinnett Center is close to failing a second time, not a shocking revelation in the up-and-down relationship between the franchise and Gwinnett County.
Force owner Doug MacGregor, who is based in Colorado, confirmed some ominous signs to the Daily Post this week. Some had been rumored for weeks and others were pretty obvious, like the Force's website is gone (it now goes straight to GoDaddy.com). Only one Force employee remains, team president Corey Remillard, and its corporate office in Norcross sits unoccupied. No charges have been made to credit cards of those fans who purchased season tickets.
MacGregor said the group is searching for a local owner to purchase the Force and revive it for the 2013 season. If that doesn't happen in the next few weeks, there is a good chance that Gwinnett won't have its AFL team next year.
It's my guess that we won't have the Force in 2013.
Why would someone purchase a team that's floundered in Gwinnett, both in the past and last season? The team's reported average attendance in 2012 was 4,242, but most people I have talked to estimated the mostly empty building had crowds mostly in the 2,500- to 3,000-fan range.
The Force's interest among many locals, even for the most dedicated of fans, has waned in recent seasons. Gwinnett resident Erik Richards, a season ticket-holder since the Force first came to Gwinnett in 2003, only went to a few games this season.
The lower AFL pay scale has trimmed the league's talent level and has hurt the Force, too. The club also has struggled for an identity since the league's relaunch in 2011.
"The quality of product has definitely suffered from what it was like in its heyday," Richards said. "That's not a knock on the Force per se, but the whole league lost those marquee guys when they got rid of those bigger salaries. ... It's just very, very marginal play.
"If you're going to do that, do it with homegrown talent from Gwinnett or guys who went to Georgia or Georgia Tech. But you bring in guys with no ties to Gwinnett or Georgia instead, when you should have gone with a Norcross kid who played Division I somewhere who wasn't quite good enough to make an NFL team."
It all doesn't bode well for a franchise that arrived in Gwinnett in 2003, returned to Atlanta in 2005, came back to Gwinnett in 2008, disappeared when the AFL folded in 2009 and returned to Gwinnett in 2011.
Now it looks like the Force is gone again. Maybe for good this time.
Will Hammock can be reached via email at email@example.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.