Believe it or not, we recently turned the calendar to Spring 2014. After the winter that most of the U.S. has experienced, and in many places may still be experiencing, it is kind of hard to believe it’s finally, officially, spring. For most American Football fans, this time of year means the season is still about 5 months away, yet the NFL Draft and college football Spring Games are coming up in the next month to hold our attention just a bit.
But by this time next year could we be on the verge of a launch of other “Spring Football” options?
The quest for developing a spring professional American Football league is one that goes back at least 40 years, and includes such efforts at the World Football League (1974-75), the USFL (1983-85), the World League of American Football (1991-92), and the XFL (2001). The sheer popularity of the sport of American Football, the potential for big money TV contracts in a day and age where sports programming rules the rights fee hierarchy, and a gap in the American sports calendar that seems to be begging for attention, are all factors that collide to make spring professional football appear, at least on paper, as an opportunity waiting for the right business model.
In early September, we profiled several spring professional football concepts that were in development. Since that time, another has emerged, and a couple have continued patiently forward. So, without further adieu, here are those leagues vying to become a meaningful spring professional American Football operation:
The A11 Professional Football League is based on an innovative offensive concept, where every player on offense is interchangeable, and any player is eligible to receive a pass. The league currently plans to launch its inaugural season in 2015, with 8 teams in major markets. Six of the 8 teams have been announced, and include the, Bay Area (San Francisco) Sea Lions, Chicago Staggs, Dallas Wranglers, Los Angeles Express, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits. You will recognize several of those team names as former teams within the USFL. The A11 FL has secured rights to names such as the New Jersey Generals, LA Express, Tampa Bay Bandits, and others. The remaining two teams and their locations have not been announced. Perhaps most importantly, the A11 has secured a TV contract with ESPN. That partnership will launch with two showcase games in 2014 – May 17 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, and June 5 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. ESPN is also contracted to broadcast the 2015 season.
An organization headquartered in San Diego has acquired the trademark rights to the USFL brand, and is in the process of bringing the much-loved league back to life. Although the new league has not named franchise cities or teams, it will not be duplicating the old USFL franchises. That’s not just because the A11FL has those names, but seems more due to the fact that the “new” USFL will be targeting cities and markets that are not NFL or MLB markets. Many observers that are closely following the USFL’s progress have become frustrated that more information about the league’s plans has not become available, and were further frustrated when a planned 2014 launch was moved to 2015. The owners of the operation, however, report they are focusing on establishing a strong financial backing before launching the league and do not want to fall into the trap of other leagues that have rushed to launch, only to run out of cash. Patience is a virtue that has probably not been too evident in other spring football attempts.
One league that does appear to be on track to launch in 2014 is the Rivals Professional Football League. Quentin Hines, a Detroit native that played college football at Akron and was a rookie RB with the New England Patriots in 2013, has founded this league. According to its website, the league will run from May through July 2014, with five teams, including two in metro Detroit, and one each in Chicago, Akron, and Indianapolis. The Rivals league is positioning itself as a developmental league, with salaries between $100 – $350 per game, plus incentives. Tryouts have already been taking place, and will continue over the next several weeks, leading up to a draft planned for April 26th in Detroit.
Although Vault of American Football is focused on celebrating the history of American Football, rather than the future, we are never-the-less inspired by the spirit and energy of those that wish to pursue development of new professional leagues. That drive to innovate the game we love has been present in the sport from day one, and over time, has shaped the game we know today. We applaud those that wish to help shape its future.