For as much as the American football fan loves the NFL, the American football fan has little or no interest in other professional football leagues. Now, the American football fan apparently has one less professional football league to not be interested in.
Major League Football recently pulled the plug on what would have been its inaugural season. In a letter sent to all players on Thursday, MLFB president Wes Chandler explained that the withdrawal of the league’s major investor has prompted the league to treat 2016 as a developmental year, with no “competitive games.”
Via Katy Bergen of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, MLFB denied via social media that it is “shutting down” amid angry reactions from those who complained about the league taking tryout fees from players and collecting ticket money from fans.
Even if the league currently isn’t shutting down, the decision not to proceed with a first season in doesn’t bode well for the future. And it underscores just how hard it is to launch another pro football league in a country that truly loves only one brand of pro football.
MLFB has faltered despite couching itself as a developmental league for potential NFL talent, and that’s something from which plenty of potential NFL players, coaches, and officials would benefit. Not since NFL Europe shuttered nearly nine years ago has there been a device for getting offseason game reps for players who hope to stick in the NFL.
Would-be NFL players currently have only two alternatives. And the Arena Football League always seems to be staving off a demise that has felt inevitable for years now. Likewise, the CFL continues to chug along, like a car that has had its hubcaps, bumpers, and fenders fly off but that still has a frame, an engine, and wheels.
Still, the AFL and CFL deserve credit for staying alive in a climate that, over the years, has claimed several different iterations and incarnations of pro football, from the WFL to the USFL to the XFL to the UFL to the FXFL to the reincarnated (but never resurrected) USFL.
The mere fact that the NFL continues to resist launching a minor league system confirms the difficulty of turning a profit from anything other than NFL-quality football, even though there are plenty of capable and willing athletes, given the number of college football programs, who could fill rosters for another league.
At some point, if the NFL continues to dilute the product in the name of safety, a new professional football league selling itself as a throwback to earlier days of the sport could emerge, with the kind of unapologetic brutality that allows sports leagues like UFC to hide in plain sight. Thanks to the NFL’s experiences over the past decade, there’s no way that anyone would be able to claim they didn’t know the risks inherent to an Old School Football League.
So whether it’s five years, 10 years, 30 years, or 50 years from now, the next time (and first time) an alternative to the NFL will have a chance of thriving is when it embraces all the things that have become taboo for the NFL. Which would give American football fans the same kind of guilt-free thrill that comes when consenting adults repeatedly punch and kick each other in the head with nearly bare knuckles and fully bare feet.
Until then, anything that isn’t NFL football won’t come close to having the financial success that NFL football enjoys. Every few years, however, another group of folks with plenty of money to lose apparently will be willing to try.