The Freedom Football League vows to kick off its inaugural season next May with a lineup that includes the Austin Revolution, Birmingham Kings, Connecticut Underground, Florida Strong, Oakland Panthers, Ohio Players, Oklahoma City Power, Portland Progress, San Diego Warriors and St. Louis Independence.
It still has no coaches, players or stadiums, so whether that target date will be hit is anyone’s guess at this point.
Should it actually get off the ground, however, I’m interested to see if it sticks to its planned business model.
If so, tackle football fans will truly have a league to call their own.
According to its website:
The Freedom Football League was formed in 2017 by a legion of former NFL football players, entrepreneurs, football operations experts, health and wellness thought-leaders, innovative legal minds and financial visionaries committed to reimagining, rethinking, reinventing, and reforming professional American Football.
The current NFL ownership, with a market capitalization of over $100 billion is closely held and controlled by 32 wealthy billionaire families and generates, on average, over $100 million of annual profits per team per year. This ownership schism creates an exploitative dynamic between ownership and the players and coaches, neglects the long-term health and well-being of the players, and gouges the fans with outrageous ticket prices.
The Freedom Football League is rethinking all aspects of the game of football and it starts with the ownership and money. The FFL’s teams will be owned by a unique consortium that includes former NFL players, active players from each FFL team, the local franchise operators, and most uniquely, you the fan.
You can sign up as a potential owner right there on the website and even pledge an investment amount (which must be less than $25,000). Founding stakeholders include Ricky Williams, Simeon Rice, Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia, and management teams are already in place at a couple of clubs.
It’s intriguing, and would certainly change the dynamic of a sport that – professionally, at least – is locked into franchise mode.
Like most ideas, however, it’s not new.
The late, great Dave Dixon – the man who pioneered the United States Football League – had a similar organization in mind just a couple of years after the USFL played its final game.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to reintroduce you to the Fan Ownership Football League (which also flirted with the name American Football Federation).
“I think there is always room for a new league,” Dixon told the Associated Press in October, 1987. “It would combine the best of the two concepts – private ownership and public ownership. I want my team owners to invest $2.5 million and then agree to sell off 75 percent ownership of their team in the second year to individual season-ticket holders.”
Dixon said the league was looking to start in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Detroit, as well as towns that didn’t have pro football.
“Places like Sacramento finds itself in a position where it wants an NFL franchise, but probably won’t get one,” Dixon said. “The NFL has never expanded unless it did so to choke off competition or by the threat of an antitrust suit.”
The talk of a new league quickly died down, but Dixon revived the idea again in 1995 – just days after the Cleveland Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore and the Houston Oilers were in the process of relocating to Nashville.
This gave the entrepreneur some new talking points.
“Do you think a Cleveland team majority owned by 70,000 Clevelanders would have voted to move to Baltimore?” Dixon told AP. “That 100,000 Houstonians would move to Nashville?”
In the 1995 version of the Fan Ownership Football League, Dixon said eight founding owners had put up a one-time fee of $5 million, plus $2 million to offset first-year operating expenses.
I hope they got their money back because sadly (or at least sad for those of us who crave alternative football leagues), nothing ever came of the fan-owned venture.
And while it might seem radical to those who are used to franchises, this community model is quite common in international soccer. In fact, single entity ownership is forbidden in Germany’s association football system.
In pro tackle football, though, only the Green Bay Packers of the NFL and Edmonton, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg of the CFL follow any semblance of a supporter-based ownership plan.
I’d love to see the FFL make this happen; if you invested, you could honestly say it was “your” team.
But with its first game roughly eight months away and so many questions still unanswered, the latest idea for a “Fan Ownership Football League” doesn’t seem any closer to becoming a reality than the original.