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Power fold for now; AFL remains hopeful of keeping franchise viable

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, 8:40 p.m.
The Pittsburgh Power's Virgil Gray is mobbed by his teammates including Curtis Young (93) after his long interception return against the Philadelphia Soul at the Consol Energy Center on Saturday July 26, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
The Pittsburgh Power's Virgil Gray is mobbed by his teammates including Curtis Young (93) after his long interception return against the Philadelphia Soul at the Consol Energy Center on Saturday July 26, 2014.

Shortly after Power CEO, co-owner and chairman Matt Shaner issued a news release Monday stating the Arena Football League team will cease operations, minority owners said they were willing to work with league commissioner Scott C. Butera in an attempt to save the franchise.

“Clearly being in Pittsburgh is important to us,” said Butera, who was hired in September to replace longtime commissioner Jerry Kurz.

“We are trying to affect a transaction that will allow the Power to continue to play (2015) in Pittsburgh.”

Butera said he is encouraged by the progress the franchise made this year, improving from a team that lost 27 of 36 games in 2012-13 to winning 12 in a row, finishing 15-3 in the regular season and earning a playoff berth for the first time.

“They have a good team and a good coach (veteran Ron James),” Butera said.

Butera said he and other AFL owners and officials want to improve the league's regional presence in the Northeast, and Pittsburgh remains a big part of those plans.

“Pittsburgh is a great football town at every level,” he said. “We need to be there. We love having a team in Pittsburgh. It is an important part of what we are doing.”

Trib Total Media president and CEO Ralph Martin, a member of the Power's board of directors, said the ownership group's intent is to “right-size the organization.”

Asked to comment on his announcement, Shaner responded with a text message: “I have no comment at this time. I will comment to you when it is appropriate.”

The Power, which struggled to build a local fan base throughout its four-year existence, entered the AFL as an expansion franchise in 2011 with the backing of Shaner and Steelers Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann.

The team finished 9-9 that season, barely missing the playoffs while averaging 9,197 in attendance at Consol Energy Center. The opener drew a crowd of 13,904, an AFL record for a new franchise's first game.

But hard times followed, with attendance falling by 44 percent in 2012 to 5,163 in the midst of a labor dispute between players and the league. At the height of that disagreement, Shaner fired his entire roster during a pregame meal hours before the season opener. Later in the season, he fired coach Chris Siegfried and replaced him with defensive coordinator Derek Stingley. The team finished 5-13.

The players union and league reached a new collective bargaining agreement during the '12 season, but Stingley had trouble attracting enough talented athletes to make the team a playoff contender. A year later, attendance rose slightly to 5,865, but the Power struggled on the field and finished 4-14.

Nonetheless, attendance averaged more than 6,000 for the first three years, triggering a clause in the Power's contract with the Penguins to allow the team to use Consol Energy Center through the 2016 season.

“They have a lot of positives,” Butera said. “Everything is in front of them.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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