A professional sports organization can only be as good as the people who keep things running smoothly.
Albany Panthers General Manager Will Carter has six years experience working in indoor and arena football, while Director of Community Development Elizabeth Faircloth brings years of teaching and coaching experience to the fledgling Southern Indoor Football League franchise.
“There’s a website right now called Teamwork Online.com, and they’re affiliated with every NFL team, Major League Baseball, NBA, and arena football,” said Carter, a native of St. Louis who got his career started with the Tulsa Talons as a ticket sales manager. “So, anytime there was a job opening, I would receive an e-mail, saying there was a job fair in Chicago, and this e-mail went to millions and millions across the nation, and I was one of 15 selected to go.”
Carter added: “I hit it off well with one of two teams there, the one in Tulsa, Okla., and the team in Quad Cities, and I hit it off well with Tulsa, they brought me down to Tulsa, met the owner of the team, and got my first start there, and have been involved now for six years straight.”
As a former teacher and cheerleading coach, Faircloth brings a general love of sports to her role as the Panthers director of community development.
I worked for the team the team that was in Albany last year (the now-defunct South Georgia Wildcats of arenafootball2) with Mr. Carter on a volunteer basis, and when he got the job for the Panthers, he gave me a call, asked me if I’d be willing to come on full-time,” Faircloth said. “Sports is in my blood, and I love football, and so, it was just the right fit.”
Differences between leagues
Carter says there really aren’t that many differences between “indoor” and “arena” football, at least in terms of season ticket holders, fans, and the like. However, he explains that differences do exist in terms of how the defense can play, as well as scoring.
“For the most part as far as everything as the business side of the football side is absolutely the same,” Carter said. “You still go out, you have your season ticket holders, you still have your sponsors, you still have the players, and the game is pretty much the same.”
“There’s two rule changes (in the SIFL),” continued Carter. “One, if you kick the ball through the uprights, it’s a point, and your offensive and defensive lines can twist and stunt. But other than those two rules, from a football play standpoint, it’s the same, and a front office side as far as getting sponsors, and season ticket holders, and marketing, that’s the same as well.”
From golf tournaments to helping churches
During her brief stint as director of community development, Faircloth has helped spread awareness of the Panthers to the larger Albany community through players participating in events ranging from golf tournaments to helping local churches.
“We just did the charity golf tournament with the (Albany Area) Chamber of Commerce, trying to get community organizations to get our players involved in the community, and get community aware of us being in town,” she said.
Faircloth says more off-the-field events are in the works for the Panthers players throughout the remainder of June.
“We’ve done Relay For Life with the American Cancer Society, as well,” she explained. “Our guys went out and walked with the cancer survivors, and people that were putting on the Relay For Life, and we’ve done some player appearances.”
Faircloth added: “We have a couple of appearances that are coming up, that we have been invited to participate in. First Mount Olive, their “Healthy Kids” program that they’ve got coming up. Then, we’ve also got a request from AmeriCorps to have some of our guys come talk to some of the youth, and the William Binns housing area for their summer camps they have to get our guys involved with, and that’s coming up at the end of June.”
Late start-up may have hurt fan support
Despite having the best regular-season record in the SIFL at 7-1, and finishing undefeated at home at 6-0, Carter says a late start, as well as playing so many home games during the first half of the season, may have actually hurt attendance at Panthers home games, all of which were played at the Albany Civic Center.
“I think the scheduling was pretty gruesome,” he said. “When you put together a schedule you try to balance it out as far as home and away games. With us having our press conference at the end of January, giving us validity in the city, we got a late start.”
Additionally, of the six home games the Panthers played during the regular season, three were played on holiday weekends: Easter, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day, added Carter.
“With that being said, from a numbers standpoint, we had to crunch those home games all in together at once, which I think has hurt us attendance-wise, because we’ve played on several holidays,” Carter said.
In their only loss of the season so far, to the Louisiana Swashbucklers at Lake Charles, La. on May 22, Carter also believes the failure of two players to make the trip played a major role in the Panthers 67-43 setback.
“We had a couple of players not able to make their flight, they missed their flight, which I think was very costly to us,” he explained. “We ended up playing a game without a quarterback, we had to have one of our wide receivers step in, and play. But I think the team responded well, and I still expect great things out of this team.”
Expansion could ease travel
With just five teams currently making up the SIFL, including the Panthers, Carter thinks expanding the league to allow for two divisions to be formed could help reduce travel costs for the Panthers.
“There’s talks of Mobile (Ala.) coming in, Pensacola (Fla.), Augusta, which I think could be great for the league to have more teams,” he explained, “which will help alleviate the travel, (and) hopefully, one day, we can see in the SIFL to where essentially we would have maybe the East region, and then maybe the Midwest, where maybe the Midwest teams from a travel standpoint can all play, and the East, that way you would help the cost of traveling.”
So, hopefully, one day, I would like to see the expansion of the SIFL to where we would not have those long trips of 10 hours or more.”
Panthers could be home for playoffs
With a 51-45 road win over the Columbus Lions last weekend, Albany now has a two-game lead over their Georgia rivals for first place in the SIFL with three games to play. Carter and Faircloth both hope that the Panthers success on the field continues.
“If everything goes well, we should have a home playoff game July 10,” Carter said. “We have a great team on and off the field, and a great product, and it’s something fans can enjoy, and have a great time.”
Faircloth added: “I’m proud of our guys, and think we’re doing well, and think we’ve had a successful season so far.”
The Panthers will try to take yet another step towards clinching home field advantage for the semifinal round of the SIFL playoffs when travel to Lafayette, La. to face the Wildcatters. Kickoff is at 8:05 p.m. Eastern Time. Log on to twitter.com/SIFLFootball for in-game updates.
By Walter L. Johnson II