Every year, hundreds of aspiring football players – the vast majority of whom are just out of college – try to make an NFL roster.
Almost all of them fail.
Some of these players move on with their lives. Some of these players play in Canada. Some of these players play in the arena league.
Well, there is now another option: the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL), which will debut this fall as, essentially, a minor league football system independent of the NFL.
Can the FXFL actually work?
“Whether or not it’s going to work, I think the reality is we’re not far away from the NFL having a developmental league of its own,” Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter Bukowski said on Ferrall on the Bench. “We’ve seen it work too well for Major League Baseball and for the D-League now with the NBA. They’ve been able to grow that brand. It seems like the saturation point for the NFL in terms of the amount that we can consume as a people – we haven’t reached it yet. And it just continues to grow, which is really remarkable.”
“But there’s no reason why teams wouldn’t want the opportunity to stash players, to develop players, to develop coaches and referees and scouts – and everything that a minor league system would bring (to the NFL). So, if this league doesn’t work, I think we’re not far away from a league like it working.”
Brian Woods, executive director of the Medal of Honor Bowl, is the brains behind the FXFL.
“When the NFL Europe folded, there was $30 million in losses that the league took,” Bukowski said. “So (Woods’) idea was, Let’s take a league, and let’s run it like a minor league feeder system with low costs (and) try and get into markets where there already was this system in place, where you can say to a minor league owner, ‘You have this arena. We can play in it. We’ll give you some of the money, and you already have the infrastructure in place to market to the local fans and bring in a quality game-day experience.’
“If you’re not trying to compete with the NFL – which we know is a losing cause trying to compete with the NFL – then you have something that can win,” Bukowski continued. “But the reality is you have to keep your cost low. The cost-benefit analysis for NFL owners and the NFL as a whole has to make sense – and the previous ventures just didn’t make sense.”
“This new league does not rely on advertising revenue to hit its revenue touchstones. It’s going to rely on gate admissions – just people showing up and being able to sell at the arena, just like a minor league team would. That is the idea, that you can do it that way – versus relying on getting a deal with NBC or ESPN.”
The NFL will be following the FXFL from afar – for now, anyway.
“The NFL understands that it makes sense, (but) I think they understand also that they’re in a position of power,” Bukowski said. “The league they have works fine. We’ve seen the revenue power of the league and the amount of money they can create as is. It’s not as if the league is in trouble when it comes to generating players that fans can love and generate stories. The last Super Bowl MVP (Malcolm Smith) was a seventh-round pick.”
The NFLPA, meanwhile, will be watching with keen interest.
“I think it makes more sense from the NFLPA’s standpoint,” Bukowski said. “There’s every reason for the union to want to give their members – and potential members – every opportunity to succeed and grow. Not only does that benefit the players, but theoretically if you broaden the player base, that’s a bigger union – and potentially more bargaining power for the players.
“I think the NFL is always careful about who they get into bed with financially, but if this works early on, it could make sense as a very low-risk venture for the NFL,” Bukowski continued. “But like I said, it’s only a matter of time before we get something in terms of a minor league system for the NFL.”