Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Miami has market size, stadiums, but no spring football history to lean on

The market of Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is very interesting where a possible spring outdoor alternative professional football league franchise is concerned.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale is the 16th-ranked television market in the United States, according to Nielsen. And it has plenty of quality options for where a possible team could play.

The obvious choice, of course, would be Sun Life Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes. Ready for use beginning in 1987, the stadium originally was called Joe Robbie Stadium and has had several other names in the past 26 years. Its capacity can go up to 75,000 seats.

Another football stadium in Miami is the home field of Florida International’s football team – Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium. It has FieldTurf, and it has been expanded to 20,000 seats, but as is the case with many college stadiums, alcohol availability would be a question mark.

An outside-the-box choice would be Marlins Park, the brand-new home of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins (nee Florida Marlins). When trying to use a baseball stadium for football, the sticking point always is how the playing surface will be configured. If it were to work, having 37,000 seats and a retractable roof both are attractive points.

Start-up football leagues seem to like to go into “untapped markets.” And where Miami is concerned, it is a spring outdoor alternative pro football league untapped market. The city never had a team in the United States Football League, the World League of American Football or the XFL. There would have been a USFL team at the old Orange Bowl, but the plans to move the Washington Federals there were sunk when the league made its ill-fated choice to move to the fall of 1986.

BOTTOM LINE – There is no way of gauging whether Miami would support a spring outdoor alternative pro football league team, since it’s never had one. In 2012, the Dolphins had the lowest average attendance by percentage of capacity (76.3) in the NFL – and that was in the fall. In 2011, the ’Phins’ attendance percentage of 81.0 was second-worst in the NFL.

And, with the National Basketball League’s Miami Heat doing as well as it has in recent years, the competition for leisure dollars in the city in the spring could be too much to overcome.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chicago’s market size, facilities make city an attractive locale

Any professional sports league would be very pleased to have Chicago, Illinois, as a home to one of its franchises. With its status as the third-largest television market in the United States and its many potential facilities, Chicago is attractive, indeed.

The Windy City has had two prior spring outdoor alternative professional football league teams – the United States Football League’s Chicago Blitz (1983-84) and the XFL’s Chicago Enforcers (2001). Both franchises had extenuating circumstances holding them back in the way of attendance.

The Blitz were expected to dominate the USFL’s first season of 1983, but, while they made the playoffs, they bowed out in the semifinals. The domination didn’t translate to the stands, either, where 18,090 fans on average came to Soldier Field. Then, in a bizarre trading of franchises, the 1983 Arizona Wranglers became the 1984 Blitz. Clearly, the Chicago football fans weren’t pleased with being stuck with a lesser team, and the result was the worst single-season average home attendance in league history (7,455).

Strangely, the Enforcers finished last in the XFL in average home attendance (15,710), but first in average road attendance (27,409). The problem was the team didn’t have a home game until Week 4, after it started the season 0-3.

Both the Blitz and the Enforcers called Soldier Field their home. The venerable stadium, originally named Municipal Grant Park Stadium when it opened in 1924, had a renovation completed in 2003. The home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears can seat 61,500.

Another nearby stadium which would fit the bill capacity-wise is Ryan Field, a half-hour drive away from Chicago in Evanston. The home of the Northwestern University football team, Ryan Field, holds more than 47,000, but a couple of obstacles exist to play there. It's located in a residential area and NU would have to approve the lease.

A smaller-but-more-modern venue is Toyota Park, the nearly 22,000-seat home of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. Toyota Park opened just seven years ago.

Of course, if a new football league wanted to think “outside the box” in Chi-town, it could try to play its games in either ancient Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs’ home park and a venue which hasn’t had a football tenant since the Bears more than four decades ago, or U.S. Cellular Field, the Chicago White Sox’ home and a venue which never has had a football tenant in its 22 years of existence.

BOTTOM LINE – Chicago-based spring outdoor alternative pro football league teams have been somewhat snake-bitten by various circumstances when it comes to support. Going forward, there would be the end of both the National Hockey League’s Blackhawks and National Basketball Association’s Bulls seasons to contend with, as well as the beginning of the seasons for the Cubs and White Sox.

In the fall, Chicago-area football fans come out in droves (home averages of 62,034; 62,250; 62,195; 62,145; and 62,329 for the Bears in the last five seasons). It’s not impossible to believe that a new Chicago-based spring outdoor alternative pro football league team could earn attendance numbers closer to the Bears than that of either the Blitz or the Enforcers.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

East Rutherford would provide largest media market, new stadium showcases

What is one of the few similarities among all of the major spring outdoor alternative professional football leagues in the last 30 years?

They all had a team in the New York metropolitan area. And why not? New York is the No. 1 media market in the United States, so it would be a natural for any new league to want to play in or around New York.

East Rutherford, New Jersey, has been the home of the United States Football League’s New Jersey Generals, the World League of American Football’s New York/New Jersey Knights and the XFL’s New York/New Jersey Hitmen. All three of those teams played in the now-demolished Giants Stadium.

The Generals ended the USFL’s run in the mid-1980s with three of the league’s top 11 all-time single-season attendance figures. The best of those years was in 1985, when rookie quarterback Doug Flutie and star running back Herschel Walker helped New Jersey draw an average of 41,268 fans per game – sixth-best in league history.

In 1991, the Knights, despite getting off to an 0-3 start, drew an average of more than 32,000 per home game. In 1992, that figure was nearly 26,000 per contest despite an 0-4 start.

And the Hitmen finished second in the XFL in average home attendance at 28,309 – quite a feat given that the team began its brief existence with one win in its first five games.

These days, the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets play their home games at MetLife Stadium, a new state-of-the-art stadium which has been open since 2010 and has a capacity of 82,500. It will be the site of the NFL’s first-ever outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl on February 2, 2014.

BOTTOM LINE – It’s no secret that past major spring outdoor alternative pro football leagues have wanted teams in the New York metro area in order to help secure television deals and more national fan interest. And MetLife Stadium is a venue any new football league would love to have one of its franchises play in. Not only would market size and a new stadium help East Rutherford’s cause, but the history of the New York metro area supporting its major spring outdoor alternative pro football teams would make it an attractive locale, as well.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grand Rapids market size surprises, facilities are the question mark

Grand Rapids, Michigan, probably wouldn’t be an obvious choice for a team in a new spring outdoor alternative professional football league, but a closer look at the market shows it deserves some larger consideration.

The top thing going for the Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek market is it is the 39th-ranked television market, according to Nielsen. That puts it higher than such National Football League markets as Jacksonville, Florida (50th); New Orleans, Louisiana (51st); Buffalo, New York (52nd) and Green Bay, Wisconsin (69th); as well as such spring outdoor alternative pro football stalwarts as Las Vegas, Nevada (40th); Birmingham, Alabama (42nd); and Memphis, Tennessee (49th).

While Grand Rapids never has had a spring outdoor alternative pro football team, it did have an Arena Football League, the Rampage, for 11 seasons from 1998-2008. In its first six years of existence, the Rampage’s average home attendance figure was 8,424 or higher, and even in the final five seasons, in which the team’s best record was 6-10 (2008), the average attendance never dipped below 6,000 per contest.

In addition, there isn’t a lot of pro sports competition for the Grand Rapids market’s leisure dollars. The American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins play at Van Andel Arena where the Rampage played, while the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, play at Fifth Third Ballpark.

What holds Grand Rapids back from potentially being a full-fledged spring outdoor alternative pro football market is facilities. The home of the Division II Grand Valley State Lakers, Lubbers Stadium, has a capacity of 8,950, and is a 22-minute drive from Grand Rapids. Fifth Third Ballpark’s capacity isn’t much higher (9,684), and there always is the specter of transforming a baseball field into a football field. Grand Rapids Community College no longer has a football program, and its old field, Houseman Field, holds just 10,000 fans.

BOTTOM LINE – Would the Grand Rapids area support a spring outdoor alternative pro football team? Without a doubt. It is highly unlikely, however, that the market would get a team without having a new large stadium within the city limits.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Keller’s spring outdoor alternative pro football past helps guide A11FL’s present

One would be hard-pressed to find someone who has been a bigger part of the spring outdoor alternative professional football genre than A11 Football League President/Chief Operating Officer Michael Keller.

Keller has been intricately involved with the three major spring outdoor alternative pro football endeavors in the last 30 years – as the Director of Football Operations for the United States Football League’s Michigan Panthers and Oakland Invaders, as the General Manager of the World League of American Football’s Sacramento Surge and Scottish Claymores, and as the Vice President of Football Operations for the XFL.

He has won four championships in team front offices and been an integral part of the league-wide kickoff of both the WLAF and the XFL. And now, Keller is back to help see a fourth major spring outdoor alternative pro football league grow to kickoff - and thereafter.

"Football’s in my blood,” said Keller. “When a group of guys get together, and you know what a league can be, done properly, the flame gets lit again, and I’m just excited as hell that we’re making the progress we are with the A11FL.”

One of the things Keller has learned over 30 years in the genre is that spending money, particularly on player contracts, isn’t the end all, be all for a new football league. He says aspects like scouting and coaching are just as important, if not more so.

“Money causes a false impression that somebody has better teams because they can spend more of it," Keller points out. "One-third of all the players in the National Football League are undrafted free agents. We also have 500 colleges and universities who produce football players. Where are all those players going to play? There’s no place for them to go. We are going to do a better job of finding those players, and giving them a place to play."

Keller is unequivocal when talking about how good the quality of football will be in the A11FL when the league kicks off its first full season in the spring of 2015.

“We are going to be a stand-alone professional football organization that will develop players who are overlooked and are equal to a lot of players in the NFL. The average fan won’t be able to tell the difference between the quality of the players in our league and the ones in the NFL,” he said. “The quality of the football is going to be equal to any professional football that you see today.

“Don't get me wrong. I love college football. I’m a University of Michigan guy, but there’s not one college football team that could beat the worst team in the A11FL. Yes, the NFL has first choice, and we’re not denying that, but the NFL doesn’t have a monopoly on making the right choices.”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Keller remembers his Panthers days fondly

A11 Football League President/Chief Operating Officer Michael Keller has extensive history with the outdoor alternative professional football genre.

Keller worked in the United States Football League in the 1980s, the World League of American Football in the 1990s and the XFL in the 2000s. It is his time as Director of Football Operations with the USFL’s Michigan Panthers, in his home state, however, that he remembers with passion.

A football player at the University of Michigan, Keller helped bring another professional football team to the Pontiac Silverdome – the spring’s counterpart to the National Football League’s Detroit Lions.

Professional football in the spring? One might think it would have been a tough sell – until one considers the Lions had just one winning season in the previous 10 prior to the Panthers’ arrival in the spring of 1983.

"I don’t think it was that difficult, to tell you the truth,” Keller said. “The Detroit Lions hadn’t been busting the door down in the National Football League, and it’s a great football state. The state had a great following for the sport, and with the status of the Lions, I think there was a segment of the population that was excited for us coming in and receptive to what we were telling them.”

After five weeks of the initial USFL season, Michigan was 1-4 and in last place in the Central Division. Some personnel changes, and the maturation of prized rookies such as quarterback Bobby Hebert and wide receiver Anthony Carter, turned the Panthers’ fortunes around to the point where the regular season ended with Michigan qualifying for the playoffs with a 12-6 mark.

"We did start slow, which was not in our best interest,” said Keller. “We had a bunch of top-notch young guys, but the one area we needed to bolster was to get quality offensive linemen. Suddenly, Bobby Hebert was protected…the offense really started gelling. There were leadership qualities that came in. It kind of supplemented the guys we already had.”

The Panthers drew decent crowds in that first season, but nothing like the 60,237 fans who saw Michigan’s 37-21 playoff win over the Oakland Invaders at the Silverdome. Some of the crowd even rushed the field and tore down the goalposts.

"It was a culmination of the season, and it was a football championship-starved community that loved the sport,” Keller said. “And as the season went on…we started winning. We broke even, and then we started beating everybody. We not only were winning, but we were winning with style, and we were fun to watch. It all started coming together in the second half of the season. And we won in convincing fashion. It was the celebration to beat all celebrations.”

The Panthers played the Philadelphia Stars in Denver, Colorado, in the first USFL Championship Game in front of 50,906 fans at Mile High Stadium. The icing on the cake came early in the fourth quarter, when Hebert and Carter hooked up for a 48-yard touchdown pass en route to a 24-22 victory.

"It was a crescendo. The noise and the excitement kept rising and rising,” said Keller. “Coach (Jim) Stanley and his staff and all the work we put in…those rookies no longer were rookies. They had that gleam in their eye. A lot of people thought we were the best team in the league at that point. And we had a good crowd out in Denver, and 20,000 Michigan fans came.”

In 1984, Michigan started out 6-0, but lost Carter for the remainder of the season with a broken arm in the sixth game. Carter’s injury, and those to other players, resulted in the Panthers finishing the regular season at 10-8, but still in the playoffs. In the first round, however, Michigan lost in the longest game in professional football history, 27-21 in three overtimes, to the Los Angeles Express on the road.

"It was an interesting year,” Keller said. “We came out and we started the season and won the first six games. We were just dominating everybody. We lost Anthony Carter and a couple other players to injuries, and no team in the USFL at that time was deep enough to replace the players we lost. Getting into the playoffs was a great accomplishment. We weren’t the same team, but, again, we were pretty darn good.”

The Panthers never had another chance to try to get back to the USFL Championship Game. Due to the league’s decision to move to a fall schedule beginning in 1986, the Panthers had no choice but to merge with the Invaders for the 1985 season.

And Keller’s home-state team no longer existed.

"It was one of our biggest disappointments,” said Keller. “When the decision was made to move to the fall, there was no place to play. We tried to convince the Tigers to allow us to play at the Tiger Stadium, and they wouldn’t, and I don’t blame them. The Pistons at the time were playing in the Silverdome. We looked at being a lame-duck, and that wasn’t in our best interest.”

As for the lessons Keller takes from his USFL experiences into the new A11FL, they are many.

"We’re forming a league that, we feel, is going to prevent some of the problems that the USFL had,” he said. “Every team was owned by different groups. A single-entity formation allows us to prevent some of the bad ownership decisions in the USFL. Everyone wants to talk about Donald Trump, but there were owners who probably didn’t have enough money, so they went cheap.

“The best way for a league to be successful is to have great competitions between teams. The A11FL is not going to have one team that can pay more. It’s going to be a level playing field.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sacramento supports alternative football well

Note: This is the latest in a series of stories about potential A11 Football League markets from the seven states the league has identified as going to have teams in the league’s first season in the spring of 2015.

Sacramento, California, has been one of the most underrated football markets in the United States for a long time. That despite the fact it is the 20th-highest television market in the United States, according to Nielsen.  That makes it larger than more well-established football markets like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

California’s River City has been the home of multiple outdoor alternative professional football teams playing in three different venues. But each of these teams has enjoyed good fan support regardless of the inconsistent locations.

The most-often used football stadium in Sacramento is Hornet Stadium, home of the Sacramento State Hornets. Thanks to the United Football League, whose Mountain Lions played at Hornet Stadium for two seasons (2010-11), the 21,195-seat stadium now has a Field Turf surface. In addition to Sacramento State and the Mountain Lions, Hornet Stadium also has been home to the World League of American Football’s Sacramento Surge (1992), then the Surge’s Canadian Football League cousins, the Gold Miners (1993-94).

Hughes Stadium, whose capacity is close to that of Hornet Stadium, was the Surge’s home in its first season of 1991. And Raley Field, the home of the Class AAA baseball River Cats, was the Mountain Lions’ final home in 2012.

Sacramento football fans have shown their love for their pro football teams by putting up impressive attendance figures. The Mountain Lions routinely filled up Hornet Stadium, and were second in the UFL in average home attendance in their only full season of 2010, while the Surge got at least 15,000 in all five home games at Hughes in 1991 and no worse than 17,920 for the six home games at Hornet in 1992.

And the Sacto community also enjoyed the Canadian brand of football, as the Gold Miners drew at least 16,000 fans in six of nine home games in 1993.

BOTTOM LINE – Sacramento always has been a favorite outdoor alternative pro football market of mine, and has been since the WLAF Surge days. It was the pioneer market of the CFL’s American experiment, and it was a great city for the UFL.

Hornet Stadium is a good venue for an outdoor alternative pro football team, and Sacramento’s market size and proximity to both San Francisco and Oakland make it a desirable location.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

San Antonio market has Alamodome, rich football history

Note: This is the first in a series of stories about potential A11 Football League markets from the seven states the league has identified as going to have teams in the league’s first season in the spring of 2015.

San Antonio, Texas, has a rich football history at all levels, and has both the market size and the facilities any professional football league would be proud of.

Of course, the preeminent sports venue in San Antonio is the Alamodome, which opened in 1993. Owned and operated by the City of San Antonio, the Alamodome has a football capacity of 65,000, 52 luxury suites – and a very extensive high-quality football history.

The current football tenants of the Alamodome are the relatively-new Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners, the Arena Football League’s San Antonio Talons and the annual Valero Alamo Bowl. Texas-San Antonio has had a football program since 2011, and has had average home attendance figures of 35,521 in its first season and 29,226 in its second.

The Talons are in their third season in San Antonio after having spent 12 seasons in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in both arenafootball2 and the AFL. In their first seven home games of 2013, the Talons averaged 7,393 fans.

The Alamo Bowl is a fixture during each college football bowl season. The all-time Alamo Bowl attendance record is 66,166 in 2007, and the game has seen an attendance of 60,000 or more on 12 occasions.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints ended up playing three “home games” at the Alamodome in 2005, and did so to huge crowds of 58,688, 65,562 and 63,747.

San Antonio also was the home of one of the more infamous teams in the outdoor alternative professional football genre – the United States Football League’s Gunslingers. The ’Slingers weren’t very good (12-24) in two years of play (1984-85), and they fell short in paying many in the organization in full or on time.

The city also has had outdoor alternative pro football teams in the World Football League (San Antonio Wings, 1975), the World League of American Football (San Antonio Riders, 1991-92) and Canadian Football League (San Antonio Texans, 1995). The United Football League also flirted with the city for a time, but ultimately never had a team there.

As of last fall, San Antonio is the 36th-highest television market, according to Nielsen.

BOTTOM LINE - San Antonio hasn’t had an outdoor alternative pro football team in 18 years, but it deserves one. One problem, however, is the city does have the National Basketball Association’s Spurs, the American Hockey League’s Rampage, the Class-AA San Antonio Missions and the Talons all playing during a potential spring football season, so the sports leisure dollars already are stretched pretty thin at that time of year.

However, given the right conditions, a San Antonio-based outdoor alternative pro football team could do very well both on and off the field.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Players in A11FL, CFL will have commonalities

The A11 Football League will begin its first regular season in 20 months.

Those who have been following the league to date know that league offenses will have both “regular” National Football League-type plays and A11-type plays where as many as all 11 players on offense can have eligible-receiver jersey numbers. We've previously described some of the athletes that would fit in the A11FL, but let's get another perspective -- the Canadian Football League.

While the A11FL won’t feature any of the key rules changes in the CFL, such as a bigger and wider field, 12 players on the field for each side and three downs instead of four, the types of athletes who will play in both leagues will be similar.

“Our rule changes fundamentally address player specialization and returns the game to versatile athletes at every position,” said A11FL co-founder Steve Humphries. “This major difference will mean players worthy of being called athletes filling every spot on an A11FL team roster.”

Let's start with the quarterbacks. In the CFL, quarterbacks almost exclusively run plays from the shotgun; and fans will see the same from most A11FL plays. While modern American football in both college and the NFL has moved significantly to the use of the shotgun, the difference in the CFL and A11FL over the NFL is the higher percentage of designed rollouts. This means quarterbacks in both the CFL and A11FL must be far more mobile.

Also a CFL team’s outside linebacker or middle linebacker quite often used to be an American-football defensive back. The reason for this is two-fold – 1) there are three downs instead of four, so passing is more prevalent, and linebackers who can cover on both first and second down are paramount; and 2) CFL running backs mostly are proficient pass receivers, meaning there is a need for linebackers who can cover them effectively. This same level of athleticism on the part of linebackers will also be necessary in the A11FL.

One striking position difference between the CFL and the A11FL is the linemen. CFL offensive linemen, for the most part, are 290 pounds and larger, but A11FL “restricted linemen” could be anyone from a 320-pound tackle to a 180-pound scatback, depending on the play call and formation. CFL defensive linemen are lighter than in the NFL, with defensive ends being as light as 215 pounds. A11FL defensive linemen will be lighter as well, given that they will face a more diverse formation of offensive personnel on any given play.

So the key areas of athleticism and mobility prevalent in the CFL will be necessary characteristics of all players in the A11FL. The end result will be a more wide-open and dynamic style of play.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A statistical look at pre-1952 NFL

The A11 Football League is taking professional football back to its roots, using an old-school rule for modern athletes.

The A11FL will not use the modern uniform numbering restrictions on offense, meaning all 11 players in the offensive huddle could have eligible-receiver numbers, if a coach so chooses. It is an innovation that will give A11FL offensive coordinators unlimited possibilities.

In 1952, the NFL began the process of changing to what now is the modern jersey numbering system. Prior to 1952, NFL offenses were putting up better numbers year after year – thanks in large part to an improving league-wise passing game, but without the offensive genius or the high caliber of athletes of today.

  • The average points per game, per team in the NFL was just 7.6 in 1926, but up to 23.2 by 1948.
  • NFL average offensive yards per game, per team was just 165.1 in 1932, but as high as 325.4 in 1948. All of the 14 season averages higher than that in NFL history have come since 1981.
  • The per game, per team amount of plays was 44.6 in 1932, but had soared to 68.2 by 1949 – and that total still is the highest in league history.
  • Over time, other offensive numbers also went up drastically with the pre-1952 offensive uniform numbering rules (first downs, 8.8 in 1935 to 17.9 in 1951; yards per play, 3.6 in 1935 to 5.3 in 1947; and offensive touchdowns, 1.0 in 1932 to 2.9 in 1948).

All of these statistical landmarks also were achieved at a time when many, if not most, NFL players were playing two ways, and sometimes three ways. Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh also was a punter and a defensive back. Early in his Hall of Fame career, fullback Marion Motley also played linebacker. And Bronko Nagurski, yet another Hall of Famer, was a fullback/linebacker, as well.

Now imagine how good the A11FL will be with today’s stronger, faster and more athletic players playing a more wide open game reminiscent of the early days of professional football!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A11FL Q&A – Scott McKibben

A11 Football League Chief Executive Officer and Commissioner Scott McKibben knows a thing or two about successful sports enterprises.

McKibben has overseen both the Rose Bowl and the Tournament of Roses, as well as Forward Market Media, an online ticketing and sports media marketing solution. He also was the Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer for the Los Angeles Times Media Group.

McKibben is excited about the potential of the A11FL, and doesn’t mince words about his involvement in it and his goals for it.

What attracted you to the A11 Football League?

“First of all, it's football. Football is absolutely the single-most popular sport with fans in America. And putting football together in the spring, at the highest competitive level, was an opportunity to not only fill a void in America for high-level football in the spring, but also to offer another opportunity for literally hundreds of players in a league where they can continue to develop and refine their skills. There is just enough uniqueness to give it some traction.”

How exciting is it for you to be involved with a professional football league that will have both modern and early-day elements?

“This is one of the great sports stories -- two young guys (Kurt Bryan and Steve Humphries) who put together this offensive scheme and built it around the game of football. The opportunity to go in and create something that's recognizable, but just different enough is what makes this exciting to me.”

As the A11FL's CEO/Commissioner, what do you see as your main roles in the next 20 months before opening kickoff?

“When you’re doing a league launch, there are an awful lot of moving parts. One of the great responsibilities of the commissioner is to make sure all these moving parts are in concert with each other. My role in all of that is to make sure that we’ve got all of our markets tied down, all of our venues leased and done, and a good television contract with a successful digital strategy is in place. Combine that with the economic and fiscal discipline that ensures our long-term success while also building a long term brand and that will give you some idea of what I'm focused on.

How good do you think the on-field brand of football will be, using Bill Walsh’s thought that the last few players cut on the final roster cutdown are as good as the last few players kept?

“I think our on-field brand of football is going to be exceptional. When you see how many undrafted players and unsigned veterans there are, I have no doubt we are going to have premier players playing in our league. We understand that, perhaps, the best football players are going to play in the NFL. We don’t want to be called or referred to as a developmental league. We are a spring professional football league that will play at the highest level. We are not a minor league to the National Football League. We do believe we serve a purpose. This is not a junior-college league. We view the NFL as our friends. There is plenty of room in this for all of us. We can play with and off each other, to each other’s benefit.”

How important are the fans to the success of the A11FL?

“The fans are everything. In a league, there are three constituencies – fans, players and coaches. The rest of us are just window dressing. We continually live by the mantra built for the fans, by the fans. And we are focused on that on a daily basis."

What are your expectations for the A11FL in 2015?

“At the end of the day, we have to produce, we have to perform. We have to put a good product on the field. We're putting together all of the pieces to make that happen. I think we’re going to have a very successful launch and kickoff and a great first year."

Monday, July 8, 2013

A11FL Featured Play – 124 “Q” Anchor Bubble

One of the aspects of A-11-type plays that makes them so successful is their unpredictability.

And there is plenty of unpredictability to go around in “124 ‘Q’ Anchor Bubble.” Not only does the play start with the quarterback under center, which is rare at all levels of football these days, but it is designed for an ineligible receiver to receive a backwards pass.

-       The quarterback starts in the shotgun, but moves under center at the last minute. He then throws a backward quick bubble screen to the “E” ineligible receiver, who most likely will be a running back/wide receiver-type lined up as a “restricted lineman.” The “E” is lined up next to the “R” receiver as the inside-most slot player to the left of the formation.

-       After catching the bubble screen, the “E” will go outside. The “R” will crack block the weakside linebacker at the play’s outset, freeing the “E” to catch the screen. The receiver furthest outside to the left, the “X,” will block the cornerback downfield. The outside slot receiver off the line of scrimmage, the “Z,” blocks the free safety downfield. The “E” follows the blocks of the “X” and “Z” receivers.

-       On the backside of the play, the “A” receiver is the left wingback, and blocks the defensive end, keeping him from pursuing the play. The running back is the right wingback, and picks off any backside pursuit, most likely from the backside cornerback. The “U” and “Y” linemen cut block the defensive tackles, the “B” lineman kicks out the backside defensive end and works up field and the center blocks the middle linebacker.

As with any play, perfect execution depends on everyone on the play doing their job. And this is one of those nuanced A-11-type plays that uses the one A11 Football League rule change – reversing the modern offensive uniform numbering restrictions to allow up to all 11 players on the field to have eligible receiver numbers – to its fullest potential.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pennsylvania A11FL team will shoot for the Stars

If the Pennsylvania A11 Football League franchise can get close to the success of its outdoor alternative professional football forerunners three decades ago, the state’s gridiron fans will be very pleased.

Pennsylvania has had a successful outdoor alternative pro football history, led by the United States Football League’s Philadelphia Stars (1983-84). Easily the top franchise in the USFL’s brief history, the Stars went 15-3 in 1983 and lost in the first league championship game, then went 16-2 in 1984 and cruised to their first USFL title.

In the 1983 USFL semifinals, Philadelphia was down 38-17 in the fourth quarter to the Chicago Blitz, then scored 21 consecutive points to force an overtime. They then scored in overtime to win 44-38.

The USFL squad that featured such future National Football League stars as inside linebacker Sam Mills and defensive end William Fuller played its home games at Veterans Stadium before being forced to move to Baltimore, Maryland, for the 1985 season due to the league’s ill-fated decision to move to the fall in 1986.

-       The USFL also had a Pittsburgh-based team for one season -- the Maulers in 1984. Like the NFL’s Steelers, the Maulers played at Three Rivers Stadium. Unlike the Steelers, the Maulers weren’t any good – 3-15 despite the presence of rookie running back Mike Rozier, the 1983 Heisman Trophy winner.

-       A decade earlier, Philadelphia had a World Football League entry, the Bell. Playing in old JFK Stadium, the Bell went 9-11 in 1974 despite finishing first in the Eastern Division and third in the entire league in points scored (493). In the first round of the playoffs, Philadelphia lost to eventual-league champion Florida, 18-3. In 1975, the Bell finished in last place in the Eastern Division at 4-7 before the entire WFL folded in mid-season.

While Pennsylvania hasn’t had an outdoor alternative pro football team in three decades, its new A11FL team will have an impressive championship legacy to live up to.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Everything is bigger in Texas – will its A11FL team be?

Texans expect big things from their sports teams.

The state’s A11 Football League franchise should be no different. Texas’ latest professional sports team, to debut in the spring of 2015, is the latest in a long line of outdoor alternative pro football teams from the Lone Star State.

The one Texas-based outdoor alternative pro football team that had the most star power was the United States Football League’s Houston Gamblers (1984-85). With Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly at the controls of a potent Run “N” Shoot offense, the Gamblers scored a lot of points and won a lot of games, including going 13-5 as an expansion team in 1984.

If there was one thing the Gamblers weren’t good at, it was winning in the playoffs. Houston was 0-2 in the postseason, then went away when they merged with the New Jersey Generals for the never-played 1986 fall season.

-       The USFL’s other Texas entry was the San Antonio Gunslingers (1984-85). The ’Slingers weren’t very good on the field (7-11 and 5-13), and they were infamous off the field for missing payroll. San Antonio’s quarterback would become a household college football coaching name – Rick Neuheisel.

-       The World Football League also had two Texas-based teams. In 1974, the Houston Texans played at the Astrodome, but after 11 games of a 20-game regular-season schedule, they became “Louisiana,” then, finally, the Shreveport Steamer. In 1975, the San Antonio Wings were born out of the ashes of the Florida Blazers, and played at Alamo Stadium before the entire league folded mid-season.

-        San Antonio got its third outdoor alternative pro team in 1991-92 with the Riders in the World League of American Football. The Riders played in Alamo Stadium in 1991 and Bobcat Stadium in 1992, and didn’t qualify for the playoffs in either season. San Antonio’s Head Coach was current Oregon State Head Coach Mike Riley.

Monday, July 1, 2013

New York/New Jersey A11FL team looks to have all the trimmings – minus Trump

New York/New Jersey is going to have an A11 Football League team in the spring of 2015.

What it won’t have is Donald Trump.

Trump, the boisterous real estate mogul and owner of unflappable hair, was the owner of the United States Football League’s New Jersey Generals, who played in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1984-85. While Trump was a driving force in the Generals signing several big-name National Football League stars in 1984, including Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Sipe and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Doug Flutie in 1985, he also was the lynchpin of the league’s ill-fated move to the fall of 1986, which resulted in the end of the USFL.

The Generals were the one New York/New Jersey-based outdoor alternative professional football team which made the most headlines – by a mile. But the Generals aren’t alone in representing the states in the outdoor alternative pro football genre:

-       The New York Stars began the World Football League’s first season of 1974 playing home games at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island. In Week 13, the Stars defeated the Detroit Wheels, 37-7, in front of just 4,220 people at home. Shortly thereafter, the team moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.

-       The New York/New Jersey Knights played in the first two seasons of the World League of American Football (1991-92) under the father of the Run “N” Shoot, Head Coach Mouse Davis. The Knights played their home games at Giants Stadium, and basically were a .500-type team.

-       Another resident of Giants Stadium was the XFL’s New York/New Jersey Hitmen, which narrowly missed the playoffs in its only season of existence in 2001. The Hitmen were 4-6, but rallied for four wins in their final seven games after an 0-3 start.

-       Most recently, the New York Sentinels of the United Football League went 0-6 in their lone campaign in 2009. The nomadic Sentinels played their three “home games” at Giants Stadium, James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead and Rentschler Field in Hartford, Connecticut.