The latest sporting coups for southwest Florida: Major League Football just announced that its national headquarters will be in Lakewood Ranch, with its inaugural season to kick off a little less than a year from now.
In an attempt to harness America’s massive football market without competing against the NFL or NCAA, the startup professional MLFB will play its season from March to July and is placing its franchises in cities with neither an NFL or an MLB presence. So far on the list are Orlando, Little Rock, Norfolk, Birmingham and Eugene, Ore.—with five more franchises to be added by next spring.
Part of the boon for this area will be the influx of 1,000-plus people every spring, starting in 2016, for the 10 teams’ spring training at the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch.
It’s a massive challenge, starting a new professional sports league of any sort—much more so a league that can’t help but be compared to the uber-popular (and all-powerful) NFL. Still, staying far from the footsteps of predecessors like the painful (and thankfully short-lived) XFL, MLFB seems to have a strong foundation. Many of its executives have NFL on-field and front-office experience, in addition to several with experience in NFL Europe (formerly the World League), a gutsy little project that survived almost two decades on a continent that barely understood the sport in the first place.
But it remains to be seen: Will football fans buy into football during the traditional “off-season”? Will MLFB become a destination for talented athletes as well as fans? Can (or should) it serve as a farm system for the NFL? Will you be watching?