West Grove man finds success as football executive and sports agent
● By Steven Hoffman
The West Virginia Roughriders battled the Carolina Energy in the American Arena League championship game last weekend, and there was a strong local connection.
Gregg Fornario, a West Grove resident and a 1992 graduate of Kennett High School, is an owner and general partner of the West Virginia Roughriders. The Roughriders defeated Carolina, 55-29, to win the 2019 championship, continuing the team’s remarkable run of success as an indoor football team. The Roughriders have compiled a 32-2 record overall since Fornario put a team in the league in 2016.
“It was a magical night,” Fornario said of his team’s title victory. “We were down early, 15-0, and came back to take the lead by halftime. And then we never looked back. There is no better feeling than winning a championship and completing an undefeated season, and I am so happy that I got to share this moment with my players and coaches.”
The team was undefeated during the 2017 regular season when the Roughriders played in Richmond. In 2018, the Roughriders were 7-1 and once again ranked among the best teams in the league. But when the City of Richmond decided to demolish the Richmond Coliseum where the Roughriders played their home games, the team moved to West Virginia—and didn’t miss a beat. The Roughriders compiled a 12-0 record on the way to reaching the league’s championship game. The victory in the June 29 title game was an exclamation point to a dominant season.
Fornario grew up in West Grove playing a number of different sports, including baseball, basketball, and football. He attended Kennett High School, which did not yet have a football team at the time. Still, Fornario loved the sport, especially the New York Jets because of his family’s ties to the New York area. After graduating from high school, Fornario knew that he wanted to pursue his love of sports in some way.
“In 1995, because I loved football so much, I tried out for the Connecticut Coyotes, an arena football team,” Fornario explained.
At that time, players were asked to play on offense and defense for arena football teams. Fornario tried out as a linebacker and fullback. With his experience of running an arena football team, he now understands why he didn’t earn a spot on the Connecticut Coyotes back in 1995.
“There are all these great football players—former NFL players, guys who played at Division I, who are trying out for these teams,” he explained.
The tryout served as extra motivation for Fornario to build a career in sports. He started taking online courses and attending seminars so that he could be trained as a sports agent. He worked with numerous athletes and specialized in off-the-field marketing, arranging paid meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, fundraiser events, and endorsements deals for players.
Some of the athletes that he has worked with are very familiar to Philadelphia sports fans—most notably players like Brian Westbrook, David Akers, LeSean McCoy, and Duce Staley.
As a result of extensive mentoring by Dr. Lynn Lashbrook and Joel Corry, Fornario eventually became an agent advisor. In this role, his duties include agent regulations and player association legalities, contract negotiation, endorsements, sponsorships, ethics, collective-bargaining agreements, draft preparation, marketing and recruiting.
He operates his own sports agency and is adept at preparing athletes for a career in sports. His agency emphasizes helping athletes achieve their goals on and off the field by serving as the primary contact for everything from financial advisory assistance to addressing lifestyle needs. He has already represented athletes who have earned spots on a 90-man NFL roster.
His involvement with arena football as a top executive is another facet of his career.
Going back to the time when he tried out for the Connecticut Coyotes, Fornario became a big fan of arena football and its fast-paced style of play that incorporates the walls of the arena into the action.
“It is very exciting,” Fornario explained. “It’s fast-paced, eight-on-eight football. It’s more like an extreme sport.”
He hears all the time about how fans who give arena football a try and then quickly grow to like it.
“Once people go to a game, they are hooked,” Fornario explained. “It’s fun. It’s very kid-friendly.”
He compared attending an arena football game to going to a minor league baseball game because extensive efforts are made to ensure a great experience for fans. People who attend arena football games also quickly become passionate about the sport and the home team, Fornario said.
The challenge for sports teams is so often about convincing folks to give the product a try. Fornario utilizes his skills as a promoter and marketer to boost the West Virginia Roughriders’ efforts in this area.
One of the reasons for the Roughriders’ success is the hiring of the right people. He explained that the team has a very good coach in La-Ronn Mook Zimmerman. The team’s executives have been able to scout and bring in a talented group of players each year.
In the effort to build a loyal following, it doesn’t hurt that the arena football team playing in West Virginia features a number of players who were standouts for the popular West Virginia Mountaineers college football team. Quarterback Jarrett Brown, running back and wide receiver Noel Devine, and defensive backs Ellis Lankster and Robert Sands all played for the Mountaineers and have been contributors for the Roughriders.
Additionally, the Roughriders made news for arena football by offering positions on the team to former NFL quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Johnny Manziel. The team also signed former NFL defensive lineman Greg Hardy after a series of suspensions in the NFL. Robert Meacham, a first-round pick who enjoyed success with the New Orleans Saints as a wide receiver, also spent time playing for the Roughriders.
“We have had a lot of notable players on the team,” Fornario said.
There are challenges to running an arena football league team, to be sure. The move from Richmond to West Virginia, for example, could have been chaotic for a young team struggling to build a fan base. But Fornario and the Roughriders just kept riding. In sports, as in life, sometimes you just have to play through the adversity. Now, the Roughriders are the champions of the American Arena League.
“We love West Virginia,” Fornario said.