The USFL, XFL WLAF and UFL are all outdoor professional football leagues that started and failed in recent memory. The National Football League is without question the most popular sports brand in America, yet no other football league has been able to piggyback off their success.
NFL ratings are outstanding, as are ratings for NCAA football, but other outdoor football leagues have struggled finding any kind of audience at all.
The Arena Football League has been able to grasp some of the sports fan's attention and more importantly, their dollars. But a league that plays the standard 11 vs 11 brand of American football, on a field 120 yards long by 53.33 yards wide hasn't been able to find a home.
A true minor league football league is something that has never been able to get off the ground, but it is something that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has recently expressed interest in.
Whether a coincidence or not, on the same day I read about Goodell's thoughts on a developmental league, I received a press release for the FXFL (Fall Experimental Football League). Their website is a work in progress, but here's their Mission Statement.
The FXFL is a professional developmental football league that serves as a platform for the development of players, coaches and referees and provides high quality professional football at an affordable price in family-oriented venues. The FXFL employs advanced technologies to offer fans a truly interactive game day experience.
What sets the FXFL apart is they aren't trying to compete with the NFL like the USFL or XFL did, they intend to act as a true minor league system.
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When I spoke with FXFL founder Brian Woods about a possible NFL partnership he said nothing was imminent at this time, but the "the league (NFL) does know of our launch at the highest level," and they "do plan to continue a dialogue with the hopes of forming a partnership in the immediate future."
Woods plans on establishing themselves in the next year, with hopes to eventually work with the NFL, although a partnership "is not needed."
The league itself will be at least six teams at launch, with an eight week schedule of games on Wednesday nights. Their season will run from October through November, with franchises located in the following areas, New York, Portland, Florida, Central Florida, Texas and an unknown Midwestern city.
Woods tells me their plan is to play in "major media markets" so somewhere close to Chicago is a possibility. Since they intend on using minor league baseball stadiums for their games, Geneva, Joliet and Schaumburg are a few Chicagoland options.
Speaking of minor league baseball, the FXFL will have a similar business model to the MiLB and also to the NBA's D-League, so their success will not hinge on television revenue, although a TV deal is in the works.
The league itself has already raised $10 million through some very prominent investors. From Forbes.com,
Wall Street has already taken notice. "I think the key element in differentiating the FXFL from other failed attempts at professional football leagues is its financial structure. The FXFL has created a business model which is sustainable," said Alan Pace, a bank executive and former president of Real Salt Lake of the MLS.
With a record number of underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft in 2014, a record number of underclassmen went undrafted. There are a lot of football players out there still looking for a way to chase their dreams. The FXFL could be their avenue to keep the dream alive.
One reason so many players are trying to make the jump to the NFL is they are chasing that 2nd contract. Rookie deals are monetarily slotted depending on where you get drafted, but it's the chance to cash in on that 2nd contract that has athletes chasing dollars.
For those of you that consider the NCAA the NFL's minor league, that is true, but only to a point. Some high school football players attend college with the sole purpose of becoming a professional football player. Their chances are slim, but that doesn't stop them from chasing their dreams. The college education is obviously important, but not everyone attends college for the schooling they receive.
The term "one and done", which is commonly heard around collegiate basketball, doesn't apply to the NFL because the NFL only drafts players that are three years removed from their high school class. This is done with the best interests of the athlete in mind, because let's face it, the average 19-20 year old can't physically match up with the NFL player.
The FXFL will also hold themselves to the same three years removed from high school rule, but they will also consider those that haven't met that criteria on a "case by case" basis.
An example; Before the 2004 NFL Draft, both Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and USC wide receiver Mike Williams, two players that weren't three years removed from high school graduation, declared for the draft. Clarett challenged the three year rule and initially won, but the US Court of Appeals sided with the NFL, and neither player was allowed to enter the draft. If a situation were to arise like this in the future, they could have the FXFL as an option.
The pool of players for the league will be made up of mostly recently cut NFL hopefuls. For their initial draft, held this September after NFL training camps, only players less than two years removed from college will be eligible. Once acquired by an FXFL franchise, players will be allowed a maximum of three years in the league.
They will use standard NFL rules, although they are open to testing out proposed rule changes. They will also utilize "Silicon Valley technology to enhance the game day experience for both fans and players alike", and when I asked Woods for an example he said they were still in the "patent application process."
The FXFL would not only be a way for prospective players to work on their craft, but coaches and officials too. It truly will be an experimental football league, with new technology, unheard of fan interaction, and a testing ground for new rules.
From Brian Woods, "I think the current sentiment among professional football executives and college administrators is that a developmental football league is absolutely needed; the FXFL can fill this void."
What do you think about the prospects of this new league?