Spring football and spring football fans have a Lucy/Charlie Brown relationship.
Every time we want to get our kicks from a new league, the ball keeps getting snatched away.
And we always fall for it.
The latest spring fling was a brief one, indeed, as the Alliance of American Football closed up shop with two weeks still to go in its regular season.
When the league was first announced I rolled my eyes and thought, “Here we go again,” but then after Birmingham got a team and I started learning more about it, I got excited.
How silly of me.
Despite some big name coaches and several players who were just a break away from being on an NFL roster, the league failed – just as the United States Football League (1983-85) and the original XFL (2001) failed.
You can argue that the USFL had a chance if stuck to a spring slate instead of chasing fall TV dollars; in my mind it was a major league that had a couple of franchises that could’ve held their own in the NFL.
And it didn’t hurt that it showcased a plethora of former NFL players and several young stars that would go on to have great professional careers.
But while we can wax nostalgic and imagine a world where the USFL survived and thrived (and I do that a lot), it didn’t. And I just don’t see how a spring minor league – even if it’s affiliated with the NFL – can last long term.
Remember, the first spring minor league came in 1991 – six seasons after the USFL folded.
The NFL owned and operated the World League of American Football in both 1991 and 1992 but shut it down because it lost money.
The league was rebranded and reopened in 1995 as NFL Europe and made it all the way to 2007 (it was called NFL Europa in its final season).
The football wasn’t bad, but the novelty was wearing off for European fans used to the original brand of football. Oh, and it was bleeding cash. Even with the great and powerful NFL behind the curtain, it was still a money-losing proposition – reportedly to the tune of $30 million per year.
Since then the XFL tried and failed, the Alliance tried and failed, and the “new and improved” XFL will try in 2020.
Will it fail?
Well, let’s see …
Individual Alliance players were supposed to receive $250,000 over three years, while word is XFL quarterbacks and other top players could make that much (maybe up to $300,000) in a single season.
And while Tom Dundon was to invest $250 million in to the AFF (but opted to kill it after $70 million of his dollars circled the drain), XFL founder Vince McMahon has already sunk $500 million into his rebooted league.
Also, the Alliance had teams mostly in non-NFL cities; seven of the eight XFL squads are in major NFL markets while the other is in St. Louis.
Throw in big-name coaches like Bob Stoops and the football pedigree of league CEO and commissioner Oliver Luck and, well, it just can’t fail.
Until it inevitably fails.
As much as I’d like to think this time – finally – someone had figured out a way to make spring football a business that lasts, I just don’t see it happening.
Big crowds might show up (per game attendance in the Alliance averaged 15,467) and TV ratings should start out well (the AAF’s were impressive early on), but money will be lost.
Lots and lots of money.
I fear that it’ll be only a matter of time until fans who just couldn’t wait for more football will, in fact, find out they can live without it for a few months each year.
Because 300 grand is good money to regular people, but the minimum salary in the NFL for any player is $480,000.
What that means is that the XFL will have its share of quality players but it’ll still be considered a minor league, and for whatever reason, minor league professional football just can’t seem to stick.
But like always, I’ll start to get interested as XFL opening day nears.
Since my hometown of Birmingham won’t have a team I’ll cheer for New York, because New York has always been my default sports city.
I’ll buy a New York Whatevers hat and New York Whatevers tee-shirt, and I’ll be in front of the TV when the New York Whatevers open the 2020 season.
Yep, a new era of professional spring football is just 10 months away.
And if you look hard enough, you can already see Lucy with her finger on the football …