ALBANY, NY (NEWS10) – Arena football is officially coming back to Albany in the spring of 2024, with a familiar team name in a familiar league. Co-owner Mike Kwarta announced they’re bringing back the Albany Firebirds to play in the newly reformed Arena Football League.
The team received interest from the Indoor Football League. So why the AFL, and why the Firebirds? “History,” said Kwarta. “It’s Albany. It’s home. There’s not much more to go back to. It’s the mecca for arena football in the U.S. There’s a reason both leagues were chasing us. It’s just right that the Firebirds come back from the ashes, forged in fire like we’re saying, and bring it back home.”
Kwarta, who had ownership stakes when the Empire went back to back in the National Arena League in 2021 and 2022 before selling the team to former NFL Pro-Bowler Antonio Brown, is joined this time by Rich Szesnat of Constantine Construction and Farm, and Andy Guelcher of Mohawk Chevrolet. Kwarta says they all share the same mission , and together, they have the ability to accomplish it. “They’re looking to have the same goals as us, to bring it to the community,” said Kwarta. “It’s not about making money, it’s just about trying to keep it here. Those guys are going to help and again it’s local ownership. That’s the big thing.”
The fight to get a team back was ongoing throughout the summer into the fall, with the main hang-up being the $1.5 million price tag on New York State workers comp. With the help of local leaders, they were able to get that number down to $560,000.
MVP Arena General Manager Bob Belber recognizes the hard work that went into bringing a team back, and the impact it will have. “There’s all types of people involved that helped us get to this point,” said Belber. “I can’t thank them enough. All of the employees of the arena are going to be able to work on these games. Downtown businesses are going to thrive, bars, restaurants and so forth and we’re playing in the AFL. This is the top league in the country.”
Former Albany Empire offensive coordinator and interim head coach, Damon Ware will be the head coach and general manager of the franchise. Ware announced the team’s first signing is former Empire wide receiver, and 2022 National Arena League MVP, Darius Prince. After unceremonious endings with the Empire during the Antonio Brown era, both feel they have unfinished business to attend to.
“We were really supposed to be getting our third championship this year,” said Ware. “We had a great football team that got dismantled. Put this year aside, we still kind of feel like we’re going for our third championship in 2024”
“It’s personal,” said Prince. “I know Deion Sanders, that’s his thing right now, but it really is. Just didn’t like how things took place last year. We got the team back this year and we just want to get back to winning championships.”
Jeff Levack will serve as team president.
Albany’s last arena football team, the Albany Empire, was terminated from the National Arena League, citing the Empire’s failure to pay overdue league-mandated assessments. The termination came months after Brown became part of the previous ownership group.