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Michael Rubin Should Create a New Professional Football League
By centering teams around the major college football conferences, this league can lock in a fan base and succeed where others have failed.
Despite American football's immense popularity and the influential audience it attracts, the sport's short regular season (17 games) remains limited compared to other major sports like basketball and baseball, with 82 and 162-game seasons, respectively. Additionally, the most popular sport worldwide, soccer, has an almost never-ending season once professional matches and international matches representing one's country are considered. Expanding the availability of professional football could capitalize on its dedicated fan base, contribute to the sport's growth, and create new revenue streams. A complementary league during the NFL offseason would provide fans with more opportunities to engage with the sport while also tapping into the vast potential of America's passion for football.
The Past Attempts
Since the historic 1966 merger of the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL), numerous attempts have been made to establish additional football leagues. Capitalizing on the popularity of the NFL and College Football, entrepreneurs have sought to fill the NFL offseason with more gridiron action. The United States Football League (USFL), which ran from 1983 to 1985, attracted top collegiate talents such as Rocket Ismail, Steve Young, Reggie White, and Jim Kelly, while the Arena Football League (AFL) existed from 1987 to 2019, helped to launch Kurt Warner's legendary Super Bowl-winning NFL career. The Xtreme Football League (XFL) recently embarked on its third attempt, this time led by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
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Although these leagues have not achieved their founders' lofty aspirations, they have demonstrated a demand for football outside the traditional season. In 2020, the XFL averaged 1.9 million viewers per game, while the USFL garnered 715,000 viewers in 2022. However, these attempts have consistently failed due to their inability to foster excitement and loyalty between fans and their teams.
Michael Rubin's Vision
Michael Rubin is the founder and CEO of Fanatics, which started as a sports apparel company but has continued to expand its offerings and is now valued at $31 billion. Rubin was also a part owner in the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils, and the Crystal Palace soccer team. He has recently had to sell out of those positions as he is moving his company Fanatics heavily into the collectibles and sports gambling space. Starting a new football league could align with Rubin's overall vision for Fanatics. By creating a new football league, there would be a new market for licensed merchandise, trading cards, and fan apparel, which Fanatics could capitalize on. In addition, with the transition into sports betting, Rubin could construct a league that featured sports betting at its very core and make exciting improvements that no other sports league could make. Add in the fact that football is a rarity amongst the major US sports in that it currently does not have a successful minor league and the opportunity for Rubin to create something in this space is immense.
Enter the Fanatics Football League (FFL), which aims to create instant fan loyalty by building ten teams around the major college football conferences. So instead of ten teams located in cities with players randomly distributed across them via a draft, our teams will be made up of only players that played their collegiate football in that conference. So, we will have a Big Ten team based in Chicago, an SEC team based in Atlanta, and so on.
Imagine if Tim Tebow had played for the SEC team after leaving the Denver Broncos (after winning a playoff game, which people constantly forget when talking trash about him), reuniting with former Florida Gator teammates and other SEC rivals. This league can provide fans with such exciting matchups, fueling fan interest and loyalty from the start.
While the NFL boasts a larger audience than college football, it cannot replicate college football fans' passion for their teams. Former college football athletes continue to inspire and uphold fan loyalty well beyond their Saturdays of emerging from campus tunnels. By developing a football league that harnesses this passionate fan base and provides players with a path toward the NFL, the FFL could crack the code for offering an off-season football league that fans want to support, and players see the value of competing in.
Conference-based teams located in regionally centric location creates a more robust fan community and team identity.
Conference-based teams will naturally utilize the style of play the conference is known for, so expect the Big Ten team to rely on solid run games and stout defenses. In contrast, the high-powered offenses of the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be seen in their corresponding teams.
Embracing the essence of college football with games on Saturdays and college football rules such as overtime structure, one foot down for a pass completion, and wider hash marks.
Revenue shares to NCAA NIL collectives to reward players in the corresponding conference, allowing professional players to pay it forward to the future players at their alma maters.
Implementing gambling at the very core of the product. Allowing for in-stadium betting, live betting stats, and potentially players actually being allowed to bet on themselves as long as they bet the over on player props (life is too short to bet unders) and to win (to maintain competitive integrity).
By preselecting which teams’ players compete for, back-office costs will be dramatically decreased since there will be far fewer scouting operations, giving teams higher levels of profitability.
Since players are preselected for the teams they can play for, the league should allow individual teams to collectively bargain as opposed to just the players association as a whole.
The FFL should mimic the NBA in ensuring that the salary cap is between 49-51% of Football Related Income and that each team should be required to spend 90% of their salary cap on average.
While gambling will be integrated into the core of the product, gambling revenue will not be dispersed to the league or the teams. This eliminates conflicts owners may have if they own other sports league teams or issues the NCAA may have with gambling revenues being distributed into NILs.
4 Conference Games & 2 Non-conference
8 team playoff (3 max games)
Start the first weekend of April, done by 3rd weekend in June, a month break before Veterans report to NFL camp, over six weeks before the first preseason game.
Big Ten- Chicago
Pac 12- Oakland
Mountain West- Salt Lake City
Conference USA- San Antonio
Big 12- Oklahoma City
ACC- Washington DC
Sunbelt- New Orleans
American Athletic (former Big East)- Orlando
*Conference members as of 2011, notable differences
Maryland is in the ACC
Missouri, Texas AM, Texas, and Oklahoma are in the Big 12
USC and UCLA are in the Pac 12
Rutgers is in the American Athletic Conference
Army – American Athletic
BYU- Mountain West
New Mexico State- Mountain West
Notre Dame- Big Ten
Big Ten (Chicago): Mark Cuban: Cuban, a Big Ten alumni (Indiana), founded his first billion-dollar company (Broadcast.com) because he wanted to be able to listen to Indiana Hoosier Basketball games over the internet; he then went on to buying the Dallas Mavericks and leading them to an NBA Championship. Sports innovation is in Cuban’s blood, and he would be a pivotal change maker for the FFL as the owner of the Big Ten team.
Pac 12 (Oakland) Chamath Palihapitiya: Palihapitiya, a massively successful innovator and former part-owner of the Golden State Warriors, has the experience and entrepreneurial spirit to resurrect a football franchise in Oakland. With his deep knowledge of the sports industry and forward-thinking approach, he could help put Pac-12 football on the map in Oakland.
MAC (Cleveland) LeBron James: As LeBron says, he is “just a kid from Akron”, and with his connection to the city, he will ensure excitement around the newest addition to the city’s beloved sports franchises.
Mountain West (Salt Lake City) Gail Miller: As the current owner of the Utah Jazz, Miller has a proven track record of running a successful sports franchise. Her experience and commitment would be invaluable in leading a new football franchise in Salt Lake City, a city that has yet to host its own professional football team.
Conference USA (San Antonio) Peter Holt: As the owner of the San Antonio Spurs in addition to the city’s NBA G League, Americal Hockey League (AHL), and WNBA team, there is no one more experienced to lead a new franchise in the Alamo City.
SEC (Atlanta) Condoleezza Rice: Born in Alabama, the heart of SEC Country, the former U.S. Secretary of State has a longstanding passion for football. Her father was a football coach, and she has been rumored as a potential hire for several high-profile football roles. As a current part owner of the Broncos, she would be ideally positioned to bring her strong reputation to the SEC team.
Big 12 (Oklahoma City) Matthew McConaughey: The Hollywood spotlight has never been far from McConaughey, a renowned fan of Big 12 football. As an avid supporter and "Minister of Culture" for the Texas Longhorns, he would be ideally positioned to bring his star power and passion for the game to the Big 12 team in Oklahoma City.
ACC (Washington DC) Sheila Johnson: Knows how to run a sports team in our Nation’s capital (Washington Mystics) and also has reached the peak of broadcasting success as the founder of BET. She is uniquely qualified to build a strong fan base from the transient residents of Washington, DC, and help the FFL in attracting new customers.
Sun Belt (New Orleans) Peyton/Eli Manning: The Manning family is famous in New Orleans, and Peyton and Eli, both collegiate and professional football stars, are now navigating the new world of sports broadcasting with their ManningCast of Monday Night Football. The brother duo could help the FFL adapt to the ever-changing sports landscape.
American Athletic (Orlando) D'Amelio Family: Social media is the new conduit for reaching younger consumers, and few have more experience in creating a social media brand than the D’Amelio family. Marc D’Amelio's establishment of a NIL collective for UCONN sports indicates he could help the league ensure future players are fairly compensated and protected.
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