There might be a new spring football league run by former Madison square Garden executives, and nine of them (so far) are named Dolan. Thursday, longtime broadcast media executives Michael and Rex Lardner, and longtime Madison Square Garden Chief Financial officer Robert Pollichino announced the launch of the Spring League of American Football, a March to July venture for the spring of 2018, which will take the spin of splitting up the US into exclusive territories based on competitive collegiate football rivalries. Players can compete only for the team in the territory where they played college football.
Think Florida vs. California or Alabama vs. Iowa or Michigan. And yes, they will try and field teams from the Northeast, so a New York/New Jersey team could yield players from Rutgers, Buffalo, Syracuse, Fordham, etc (although given the recent fortunes of most of the local schools except the Rams, that might be a tough one).
Michael Lardner was a longtime TV executive at MSG network (we he helped create MSG Varsity), and before that at Cablevision-owned SportsChannel, while Rex was a veteran TV producer at Turner and worked for years on the administration side in college sports. For the record, they are related to legendary scribe Ring Lardner.
But why another spring league now? Several other announcements have come and gone for other spring ventures (even the USFL has tried twice to revive itself), and we have seen the recent fall failures of the UFL and the FXFL (where are you now, Brooklyn Bolts alumni). Content and deep research, the execs say.
“Not only do the numbers make sense for the fans, the financial model shows it is a solid investment for the individual team-owners as well as the advertisers and league members,” Pollichino said in a release. “Financially it works –yes. But for the fans it works as well. College players develop a strong following at their respective universities. We are capitalizing on that fan loyalty, by keeping players in the same region where they played college ball.”
They are also banking on the fact the good football content outside of the NCAA and the NFL window will become interesting to all the new broadcast properties entering into the space, like Netflix and Amazon, as well as the regional and national traditional cable ventures like CBS Sports Network and NBCSN. Bring a compelling, affordable product to fill the football void, and a successful plan may work, is their theory.
“We all know that content is king, and the creation of a compelling football product in the time of year when the NFL is not playing and the fans are looking for even more live action is more real than ever before, according to the survey we have assembled,” Michael Lardner added. “We are ready to present the fully baked plan to a business audience that has been clamoring for such an opportunity.”
The SLAF will have 10 teams and a 10 game schedule, not including playoffs to start as soon as 18 months from now, which is a very tall order. SLAF players can try out for the league when their college eligibility expires and must play in the team territory of their college. They will have a combination of NFL and NCAA football rules and the release added that they are in negotiations with additional ownership groups and media partners (their former bosses in the mix?) with other announcements forthcoming.
There has never been a question that the amount of current football talent extends way beyond NFL rosters, and the CFL has shown at least a casual interest in even more football year-round. Is it deep enough, compelling enough regionally and cost-efficient enough to make it viable, especially in major markets like New York, Chicago, Philly and LA where college football is interesting but not all that deep or desirable? The finance guys say yes, and if one thing the alumni of MSG know in the business side, it’s how to crunch the numbers. Will the fans engage and care, that is a several million dollar question.
We will watch to see if it kicks off, and when, with a few New Yorkers at the helm.