Macon Steel indoor football team forging ahead

An indoor football team called the Macon Steel will start playing at the Macon Coliseum on March 24, the team’s managers announced Tuesday.

The Steel will play other teams affiliated with American Indoor Football, which has a half-dozen teams in the eastern half of the country, said Ervin Bryson, head coach and assistant general manager of the Macon Steel.

Bryson and the team’s backers acknowledge that previous start-up sports teams in Macon have not fared well. Minor-league baseball, hockey and arena football all folded here, often after just a few years.

Macon Steel organizers say they want to get players and coaches out into the community, involving them in schools, charities and civic events, to win friends and fans.

“This team will not be successful without the community,” Bryson said.

The team will have about 40 players, he said. Ten have already been signed, and there are about 15 more prospects.

Local players can try out for the remaining spots this Saturday, starting at 8 a.m., Bryson said. There’s a $45 fee, and tryouts will take place at the team’s practice facility, Christ Chapel SportsTowne, 170 Starcadia Circle.

The announcement came at a sparsely-attended news conference at SportsTowne, overlooking the practice field.

Team offices and ticket sales will be housed at SportsTowne, said Beth White, associate pastor of Christ Chapel.

Tickets will range from $8 to $30, Bryson said, and starting Friday can be purchased at SportsTowne or the coliseum.

Season tickets essentially give holders one game free, so a season ticket for five home games in the $30 section would cost $120, general manager Andre White said.

While all agree that the first Macon Steel game will be March 24, it’s unclear how many games will be played this season. The AIF website says seven, Andre White said eight, Bryson said 10. Four or five of those should be home games.

Andre White, an Atlanta businessman, said the team has a two-year lease with a one-year option on the Coliseum.

Chris Floore, spokesman for Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, said all negotiations for use of the Coliseum were handled by Noble Investment Group, which manages the Macon Centreplex for the city.

While officials are happy to have the team, city government is not providing any financial incentives, he said.

American Indoor Football was formerly known as the American Indoor Football Association, which formed in 2006.

In 2010 it merged with the Southern Indoor Football League, then split in 2011 and re-formed to start a new season this year.

The AIF season will end before the NFL season starts in the fall, and some players can aspire to move on to bigger leagues, Bryson said. But even if they don’t make the NFL, Macon Steel players can become solid and respected members of the community, he said.

Bryson said he has coached several indoor football teams in the past eight years. He introduced Max Jean-Gilles, former offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles who was a consensus All-American at UGA in 2005, as the Macon Steel’s major financial backer.

Jean-Gilles said he was brought in by White, enticed by the chance to help youth change their lives for the better through football.

“I’m truly honored to be part of this,” Jean-Gilles said.

White said he played football at Morehouse College, then for three years in Canada before returning to Atlanta as a concert promoter. He wanted to start a sports team close to Atlanta, something his two sons might enjoy, and thought Macon’s Coliseum was a good venue for that, he said. White said he has wanted to start a team in Macon for about four years, but work started on this franchise deal about four months ago.

“Mr. White will be contracting with the Macon Coliseum and promoting through Pro Training Group LLC, an Atlanta-based sports and entertainment marketing and management firm, of which he is a partner,” the AIF website says. “Pro Training Group’s marketing collateral heralds them as a company with a national reputation for excellence and with a staff with over 50 years of experience in the sports and entertainment business.”

Andre White said he and Jean-Gilles are the team’s only major backers at this point. He estimated the start-up cost at $325,000 to $450,000. That covers insurance, equipment, field work -- everything “from A to Z,” Andre White said.

Bryson said players will be paid $150 per game, plus a few yet-unnamed perks.

Macon City Councilwoman Beverly K. Olson owned an arena football team called the Macon Knights that played from 2001 to 2006. Low attendance killed that team, but expenses were also high, including league fees and insurance for frequent injuries, she said.

Olson said the Knights also provided family entertainment.

“I think we did that well. The halftime shows were always wonderful,” she said.

And the Knights also sought to build a fan base through community outreach, using some of the very same tactics Steel organizers named. It just wasn’t enough, Olson said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.