The Freedom Football League – the latest in a sudden surge of upstart pro gridiron circuits – has a bold vision.
The question is, will anyone ever see it?
Late last year, 12-year National Football League veteran and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams announced the formation of the FFL. He is one of 50 former NFL players who are stakeholders in the venture, which would turn corporate football on its head if successful.
The early takeaway is that the league is as much a social movement as it is a sports business.
According to the FFL website:
“What began as a moment where former NFL players began re-imagining and re-thinking the ownership structure of professional football has evolved into a movement. In a league owned by fans and players together, this movement profoundly and boldly replaces the exploitative power dynamic between owners and players and revolutionizes the relationship between fans and the teams they root for. Billionaire owners have for too long put their wealth and greed ahead of the health and safety of the men on the field. And more recently, the voices and free will of players as humans has been thwarted and stifled. Players who speak out against societal injustices that plague our nation are punished by a power structure threatened to admit the truth.”
The movers and shakers of the league vow to “fight institutionalized racism through unity” and explicitly state that “billionaires are not welcome.”
Standing up for what they believe and making it the guiding force of the league is all well and good. Ultimately, though, its success will be determined by how the game itself resonates with fans.
To that end, the FFL – in theory – will be about as fan-friendly a football league as one could hope for.
Instead of a sugar daddy owner, the franchises will be a joint venture between players and fan investors. And while there are 10 franchises currently on paper, San Diego is the first to be officially announced. In that team’s news release it states that the club’s “distributed ownership model” mandates that no person or group can invest more than $1 million, thus preventing a controlling position.
Basically, players and fans will be partners and decisions on the direction of a given franchise will be communal.
From the website:
“The FFL 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, the fans.”
Joining the San Diego Warriors in a planned 2020 launch are the Birmingham Kings, Connecticut Underground, Florida Strong, Oakland Panthers, Ohio Players, Oklahoma City Power, Portland Progress, St. Louis Independence and Texas Revolution.
Again, San Diego is the only franchise that currently exists; the cities and nicknames were unveiled in concert with the league announcement, a true “cart before the horse” moment in the annals of sports.
It reminds me a bit of the late David Dixon’s grand ideas.
The United States Football League was Dixon’s brainchild, but when league owners went on a spending spree and began competing with the NFL for players, he became disillusioned and disassociated himself from it.
In 1987 he tried to form America’s Football League, Inc., which would feature fan ownership, but it never got off the ground.
A decade later he revived it in the form of the Fan Ownership Football League, where 70 percent of each team’s stock would be sold to the general public.
It never made it past the drawing board, either.
Yet here we are in 2019, with another group vowing to give fans more than a rooting interest.
Will the salaries be “major league” or “minor league”? Players might want to distance themselves from billionaire owners, but I assume they’ll want and expect to be paid good money. If the FFL wants to take on the power structure of the NFL, it seems the best way to do that is to give fans a comparable product.
Are the rules similar to the NFL or will they be innovative, giving the league an on-field gimmick?
When will the season take place? The Alliance of American Football starts next month and the rebooted XFL takes the field in February, 2020, so the spring and summer is about to get crowded with pigskins.
And the biggest question of all, will the Freedom Football League ever even get off the ground?
Hopefully more info will be forthcoming soon. As I’ve said ad nauseam, I’ll always give a new pro football organization a chance – and the motivation behind the Freedom Football League is admirable.
But to be taken seriously, it has to get down to the serious business of identifying stadiums, players and coaches.
Until that happens, it’s still nothing more than a nice idea.
For more information on the league, go to www.freedomfootball.co