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Another Football League is Set to Kick Off, But Can It?

25 Jan, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Following Failure to Launch of MLFB, Skepticism is Strong as to Potential for Success of Football Outside the NFL

It was with much fanfare that a summer pro football league was announced recently. According to an article in The Washington Post, the Pacific Pro Football League (PPF or PacPro, as it is also known) has stated it will field a four-team season using promising young players, in an attempt to give them the experience and exposure they need. 

According to the article, PacPro “aims to begin play in 2018 with four teams based in Southern California. Unlike many other start-up leagues, its talent pool will be limited to athletes who are less than four years removed from high school graduation. The goal is to give young prospects a professional outlet to prepare for the NFL, said Don Yee, the league’s CEO.”

The league also intends to offer salaries to players. All teams will be owned by the league, and the average player salary will be $50,000, according to the Post. This, they say, offers a viable alternative to NCAA play:

While college football long has served as the NFL’s de facto feeder system, organizers hope that prospects will gravitate toward an alternative that pays a salary and doesn’t have academic requirements. (Players will be offered tuition and books at a community college, organizers say.)

Bradley T. Edwards, COO of the new league, told SDM that PacPro “wasn’t in a position to share right now” which venues the league would be using in the coming season.

Players will not be provided with housing, but “will be treated like adults. We will present them with some options,” he notes. Because many of the athletes are expected to come from California and surrounding areas, they may elect to continue living at home, or to share apartments or houses with other players.

The league presently “is in the process of getting studies done” with regard to economic impact, and “we haven’t released specifics related to that,” he added.

PacPro’s officials are enthusiastic about the league’s potential. But, note skeptics, the precedent that has been set for alternative football programs to the NFL has not been promising.

Most recently, Major League Football cancelled its spring 2016 launch, saying it would pursue its season the following year; however, its site has not been updated since that time, and the organization will not return calls or e-mails asking for information. The Bradenton Area Sports Commission, which represents the area that was supposed to host all MLFB action, has not received updates, and the Premier Sports Campus in Bradenton which was to host training, referred questions to MLFB.

MLFB is hardly the first organization to fail to launch – or to be unable to survive in the long term. The United Football League (UFL) played from 2009 to 2012, mainly in markets where the NFL did not have a presence at the time. However, the small league (it had only five teams) was trying to play in the fall season, meaning it had to compete with NFL, as well as with high school and college ball. The XFL league, founded by World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) owner Vince McMahon, debuted in 2001 with eight teams. It was intended to be another off-season league, but failed to gain traction with audiences and ceased operations after only one season. The United States Football League played for three seasons, 1983 through 1985 in a spring/summer format. A fourth season, to be played in a traditional autumn/winter schedule, was set to commence before the league folded. (Trivia point: one of the league’s backers was Donald Trump.) Other start-up leagues have had similar fates.

Backers of PacPro say the failure of these leagues can be attributed to the fact that fans were less than enthused about attending games featuring players who had been unable to make the grade at the pro level. And with no college affiliation to help generate a fan base, the leagues had lackluster followings at best.

The PPF, says its backers, differs in that it will showcase the most promising young players, giving football fans a glimpse of the stars of tomorrow.

According to the Washington Post article:

 While the new league hopes to eventually attract the most talented high school graduates possible, officials expect to initially rely heavily on junior college players or those with a year or two of college seasoning under their belt. They know long-term viability hinges on the type of athletes it fields.

“I think everything is driven by the players, driven by the talent,” said the league’s chief operating officer, Bradley Edwards, a former executive at both the NFL and ESPN. “Who can we get? Who’s going to play in this league? I think that’s going to be the driver of a lot of this.”

Rosters could be filled with players who don’t academically qualify for four-year schools, who have played a bit of college ball and want a change, who have competed in junior college, or who want to get a jump-start on preparing for the NFL draft.

But there are other challenges to be faced. An article in the New York Times notes,

“Having enough money to get a league off the ground is one challenge. Finding a way to publicize it is another. With television already cluttered with dozens of games each week, the chances of a new league finding space on a widely distributed cable network are remote. Don Yee said that Internet giants like Amazon and Netflix were looking for sports content to distribute. It is far from clear, however, whether one of those companies will pay Yee’s league to show games.”

Competing with the NFL – even in the offseason – will be difficult, given its presence, financial backing and just plain clout. And right now, it’s even riskier. ESPN notes, “this is the second football league to spring up recently. In December, the NFL notified its 32 teams of a spring development league that will operate in April 2017 and will work with NFL veterans who do not have contracts.” The NFL has since opened a Facebook page for that league.

Edwards does not seem at all put off by this development.

“The details of what the NFL is working on are still to be determined,” he says. “We are dealing with a different player pool and a different player population. We see ourselves as adding to the football system. When you enhance the quality of play, the sport of football grows overall.”

PacPro’s website does not come up on Internet searches presently. The league also lacks a social media presence. Edwards says the latter is by choice.

“We wanted to evolve that voice ourselves. We don’t want to be out there unless we are able to engage in it. We will activate our social media presence but we have not announced that yet. There are a lot of things we need to do, so I couldn’t tell you when that was going to be right now.”

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