For years there has been talk, and many false starts, on the need for spring professional football. The Arena League had its moment in the sun and is still trying to hold in in a different form, the WLAF came and went, the UFL made an announcement about a spring league before going belly up, and there have been talks about a new USFL, the AAFL, the NPFL and on and on and on. In 2018 there are still plans to launch the Pacific Pro football league, with agent Don Yee among the leadership and at least two other spring iterations are still in various stages of development and fundraising.
We see basketball, especially the NBA, go almost non-stop from Finals to Draft to free agency to summer league, and now we have Big 3 to fill some additional void for now with stars of days past. However in the U.S. football is the big reach, and the theory goes, why not have a league year round to fill the gap that now rugby is also looking to grab?
However into that mix it seems like one alternative already exists. It is action packed, quality, sponsor friendly, with solid TV money and a long tradition at a time of year where the NFL is silent. It is the CFL, and its spots in recent weeks on ESPN2 have awakened more interest. It is not quite the notch of the NFL, but it is professional football for sure. The teams have unique brand activation platforms, they are not afraid to test limits on programs like on-field advertising, new technology or even the viability of jersey sponsors. They have a series of stronger Canadian markets, some with newer or to be built stadia and they have many recognizable names, as well as talented players with interesting stories still to be told to an American audience. The rules are different, but this is not cricket or rugby, and it comes at a time of year when football fans have an interest in seeing live games, especially before two-a-days start in the dog days of summer. The relationship between the NFL and the CFL is ever improving, so instead of re-inventing the wheel why not grow the one that already exists?
Now CFL football actually in the US has been tried with various degrees of success. The Baltimore Stallions filled a nice void when the Colts left that city and before the Ravens arrived, and the Sacramento franchise, a city which always seems to do well with football but never gets its fair share, also did OK before the plans were scrapped. More importantly it would not be important to have franchises in the States per se…maybe a game here or there…but improving broadcast, digital and marketing into the States is a win for the fan and for the CFL, as well as for new brands looking to engage in football through media, but without NFL dollars. The CFL is fun, fan friendly and intriguing, and if its ESPN success with partner TSN continues to be string and worth watching, maybe it could morph into a viable and fun filled spring not just for Canadians, but for Americans as well.
The league does have its challenges, but the current leadership appears to have the league on the right track, and with that right track comes a void to fill south of the Canadian border. We need great timing and good stories in sport, and for spring football, maybe the right answer is sitting out there already, just up north, and with a few rules quirks, but with quality, tradition and a viable business model already in place.