2003 - 2004
January 3, 2004
Prowlers fold after four year run
Prowlers owner Art Donaldson was unable to close a deal to sell the team.
BY LARRY KEECH
GREENSBORO - When the arenafootball2 season opens in April, there no longer will be a team playing at the Greensboro Coliseum.
After four difficult years ended with Greensboro Prowlers owner Art Donaldson and coliseum managing director Matt Brown unable to secure new ownership for the team in December, Donaldson notified the Chicago-based league that the Prowlers would cease operations.
"We're out," Donaldson said Friday. "We've been through a lengthy process of trying to get investors to make it work. But now we're finished. The bottom line is that there's not going to be a team here this year, period."
Earlier in 2003, Donaldson divested his ownership of the Greensboro Generals ECHL hockey team. Although Brown and other coliseum officials are operating the Generals during the 2003-04 season while prospective investors are sought, no such financial bridge is likely to be made available to the af2 team.
"The coliseum has not considered, nor is it considering, operating the Prowlers," Brown told the News & Record on Nov. 7. Efforts to reach him Friday were unsuccessful.
Consequently, Donaldson said it was necessary to fold the Prowlers franchise when efforts to find new investors were unsuccessful.
The team's four-year history showed declining attendance figures, despite recent improvement on the field.
The Prowlers' most encouraging attendance figures came during their debut season of 2000, when announced crowds for the eight-game home schedule averaged 5,944 even though the team struggled to a 3-13 record that included a 103-3 loss to the Quad City Steamwheelers. The attendance average that year approximated budget projections of 6,000 spectators.
The attendance average fell to 2,320 in 2001 and 1,563 in '02 as the Prowlers finished with records of 5-11 and 3-13, respectively.
Last season, after Steven Jerry was hired as coach, the Greensboro team went 9-7, falling just short of a playoff berth. But the attendance average of 1,750 failed to mirror the improvement on the field or approach the budgeted figure of 4,000.
"I couldn't bear the losses any longer," Donaldson said Friday, although he declined to reveal how much he lost on the Prowlers.
Although arenafootball2 will not release its 2004 schedule until later this month, it has announced a realignment of its two conferences and six divisions. Four of the five teams who formed the Atlantic Conference's South Division last season will not operate in '04. Besides the Prowlers, those teams are the Charleston (S.C.) Swamp Foxes, the Norfolk Nighthawks and the Richmond Speed.
Arenafootball2 fielded 27 teams last season and expects 26 to compete in '04, including four expansion teams. The only teams based in Virginia, the Carolinas or Georgia are the Cape Fear Wildcats (Fayetteville), the Columbus (Ga.) Wardogs and the Macon (Ga.) Knights. So one of the sticking points in negotiations with prospective owners of a Greensboro team was the certainty of increased travel expenses.
Brown, who is left with the costly artificial playing field and other equipment necessary to reconfigure the coliseum for arena football, said in December that he will continue to try to find investors for an indoor team with an eye toward the 2005 season.
Besides af2, the coliseum director said he also would explore the possibility of a franchise in the rival National Indoor Football League, which has grown to 24 teams. The two area teams in the NIFL are the Greenville (S.C.) Riverhawks and the Myrtle Beach Stingrays. An NIFL franchise in Winston-Salem, the Energy, folded in 2002 after one season.
Although Donaldson was unable to continue as the principal owner of a Greensboro arena football team, he said he might be interested in a reduced role in future ownership.
"I still think af2 is a terrific product that will continue to grow," Donaldson said. "I'll do whatever it takes to bring it back to Greensboro, whether than means a secondary role or whether a prospective ownership group prefers that I wouldn't be involved."
Contact Larry Keech at 373-7080 or firstname.lastname@example.org