Running a developmental league for the NFL has proven to be a tough business. The USFL flopped. The XFL flopped. The APFL flopped (the what, you ask? Exactly). Even the NFL-backed NFL Europe flopped.
Point is, there’s a ton of history suggesting that starting an NFL D-League is a bad idea. Don’t tell that to the people over at the FXFL, though. Their league is scheduled to kick off its first season this October, and they say there are a few key differences between the FXFL and other past hopefuls.
For starters: pay. FXFL commissioner Brian Woods says that in the past, d-leagues have overpaid for (relatively) big name coaches and players. That won’t be the case in the FXFL.
“[Players and coaches] can expect that everything about this league is developmental, even pay scales,” Woods told ESPN reporter Kevin Seifert. “To be honest, we've been very surprised at some of the coaches we've gotten at our price. You're not going to become rich working in our league, but we're finding people who believe wholeheartedly in the developmental model. We have financial backing to make it through the season and then some, and more importantly, we don't have the costs that some of these other leagues had."
Woods says the league has a four team, six week season planned that will start on October 8. How will teams fill their rosters? With all the NFL players that will be looking for a job soon. When NFL teams trim their rosters down to 53 players next week, there will be over 1,000 young, talented football players looking for work. Woods hopes the FXFL gives these players the opportunity to stay in football shape both mentally and physically for when teams come calling.
“We think there is a lot of value in what we'll offer," Woods told Seifert. "These undrafted rookie free agents that get cut in the coming weeks, a lot of them are talented and have the ability to play in the NFL. They need a year or two of playing at a lower level to develop, or maybe they just need to stay in football shape for when the NFL needs them. We think there is a real need for that."
Woods says the league plans to piggy back with minor league baseball teams for marketing opportunities and sponsorship deals. The long term goal, of course, is that the league takes off and lands a partnership with the NFL.
Will it happen? It’s way too early to tell. The need for a developmental league is certainly there, though. Someone just needs to find the winning formula that, to this point, has eluded everyone.