By: DAVID WEINBERG, Aug 10, 2018
Professional sports franchises haven’t fared well in Atlantic City in recent years.
The Arena Football League is hoping to end that slump by placing a franchise in Boardwalk Hall, starting next spring.
“It’s going to happen,” said Ron Jaworski, majority owner of the Philadelphia Soul, which plans to start a franchise in Atlantic City. “There are a lot of moving parts to it, but I’m confident we can get the local support to put a team there. As everyone knows, I’ve been bullish on the Atlantic City market for a long time. We’re going to make it work.”
Jaworski, a former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who owns Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township, was responsible for bringing the Philadelphia-based Maxwell Football Club to Atlantic City. It held its banquet in town for the 15th straight year in March, drawing a sellout crowd to Tropicana Atlantic City.
The 67-year-old also staged an Arena League game at Boardwalk Hall in May 2015. An announced crowd of 6,514 watched the Soul earn a 51-43 victory over the now-defunct Las Vegas Outlaws in the short-lived DraftKings Boardwalk Bowl game.
He is scheduled to meet with city officials next week.
“I think it’s a great idea,” City Council President Marty Small said. “I’m for anything that will bring family-oriented entertainment to the city.”
It would be the fifth professional sports franchise to come to Atlantic City in the past 20 years. None of the previous four is still here, although the city authorized former Atlantic City Surf owner Frank Boulton in May to try to find someone interested in placing a baseball team in Surf Stadium.
The Surf played here from 1998-2008 in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (1998-2006) and the Can-Am League (2007-08) before folding.
The Boardwalk Bullies of the East Coast Hockey League played at Boardwalk Hall for five seasons (2001-05) but failed to draw enough fans to stay. The franchise relocated to Stockton, California.
The Seagulls spent six seasons (1996-2001) in the now-defunct United States Basketball League playing at Atlantic City High School, Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom and finally at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing.
In 2004, the Atlantic City Cardsharks of the old National Indoor Football League played at Boardwalk Hall.
“I know we’ve tried (sports franchises) here before, but this is different,” Small said. “The Arena League is the major leagues of indoor football.”
The idea to bring a team to Atlantic City is part of a long-term plan by Washington businessman Ted Leonsis. Leonsis’ company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, owns a number of sports franchises, including the NHL-champion Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards and WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
He also owns two of the four active AFL franchises, the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade. The other two are the Soul and Albany (New York) Empire. Two other franchises, the Cleveland Gladiators and Tampa Bay Storm, are on hiatus while their arenas undergo renovations.
Atlantic City became attractive to Leonsis and the league because of legalized sports betting.
“(Legalized sports betting) is a new frontier for professional sports, and teams who don’t seize on this opportunity will be left behind,” Leonsis wrote on his blog in May. “It’s not hard to imagine in the near future fans on their devices analyzing data, placing bets and communicating with each other in real time during games. Legalized sports betting will only bring fans closer to the game, ramping up the action in each minute and creating more intensity.”
Bally’s Wild Wild West, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah’s Resort and Ocean Resort Casino all have on-site sports books in Atlantic City.
DraftKings, through a partnership with Resorts Casino Hotel, launched the state’s first online and mobile sports betting platforms Aug. 1. Resorts also established an online and mobile sports betting partnership with The Stars Group.
“When the league was first talking about expanding, Atlantic City was one of the top three contenders because of sports betting,” Jaworski said. “Sports betting is a game-changer.