The Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) quietly debuted last week, its kickoff preceded by none of the ads, fanfare, or hype that accompanied the start of the NFL season last month. The four team league began its six week season in Omaha on Wednesday as the Mammoths beat the Boston Brawlers 41-18.
The FXFL defines itself as “a professional league which serves as a developmental platform for players, coaches, and referees. Our business model places an emphasis on local marketing, cost containment, and the utilization of smaller venues to better engage the fan base.”
Alternative leagues have popped up from time to time before, all of them very short-lived. Here’s a look at the most memorable attempts.
The World Football League (WFL) 1974-75. Some teams relocated during the season, others folded mid-season and teams and owners constantly struggled to pay their players.
The United States Football League (USFL) 1983-85. The eighteen team league played three seasons and brought an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL for monopolizing TV rights. When the league finally folded it had lost $163 million.
The XFL, 2001. Vince McMahon’s attempt at football, the league was supposed to complement the NFL offseason, but was instead a monumental, gimmicky failure that folded after one season.
The United Football League (UFL), 2009-12. A five team league that played a fall schedule and hoped to become a developmental league for the NFL. The league lost $150 million and was eventually sued by its players for failing to pay their salaries.
All of these previous attempts at creating an alternative to the NFL failed for two reasons, they tried to compete with the NFL (either with a fall league schedule or with lawsuits) and they didn’t have enough money. Upstart leagues just can’t advertise, broker TV deals, and often pay their players. Will the FXFL be any different?
For the FXFL or any other D-League attempt to work it needs NFL affiliation or at least an infusion of NFL cash. Football is more popular and lucrative than ever and the NFL is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Maybe the time is right for an NFL Developmental league.
The NFL could buy the FXFL, expand and cultivate it, and ultimately run it as a viable development league, similar to the NBA D-League. Expanding the league to sixteen teams (half of the NFL’s 32), with teams in non-NFL cities would be a good model. Players on those sixteen teams could develop their skills, while hoping to make one of the 32 big teams take notice.
The expenditure for the NFL could be kept to a minimum. They could give every D-League player, across the board, the NFL league minimum of $420,000. By incorporating the FXFL into its brand the NFL could also add to its TV empire. If they kept FXFL games on their current Wednesday schedule, they could have their product on the air Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Unfortunately the NFL, like most fans will simply ignore the FXFL. Business is booming in the NFL, they don’t have to even acknowledge the FXFL if they don’ want to.
Besides, the NFL basically already has a D-League that doesn’t cost them any money in major college football (any school from one of the power conferences could beat Oakland on any given Sunday).
Football has become America’s game and we love to root for the underdogs, but if the inaugural game is any indicator (only 3,0000 fans in attendance) the Fall Experimental Football League is destined to fail, another victim of the lack of exposure and of insufficient funds.
A new football league simply doesn’t stand a chance against the NFL, but it does have a place among the other grand experiments turned failed leagues that we love to watch or joke about while we wait for the next NFL game to kickoff.
Perhaps it is a bit premature, but: