A startup development football league took one step closer toward legitimizing its brand as the the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) signed a deal with ESPN to show the league’s games on the ESPN3 digital platform.
A spokesman for the league told SI.com that part of the impetus for the deal was the NFL’s desire to have film of the games to evaluate. In fact, the NFL has apparently been keeping a close eye on the FXFL according to people inside the league.
While the FXFL has no current affiliation with the NFL, the startup league hopes to become a true minor league system for the NFL. The FXFL currently has four teams, all training in Florida, but set to play in-market games in Omaha, Boston and Brooklyn beginning Oct. 8.
Investors in the FXFL insist the league can be profitable without buy-in from networks and major advertising sponsors, which makes the most recent announcement even more critical to the evolution of the league.
“First and foremost, we’re a developmental league,” commissioner Brian Woods told SI.com in April, before the league was fully formed.
“What we are not is a promotional league that is operating under the guise of a developmental league.”
In fact, an FXFL official says nearly every player on one of the four teams was either drafted by an NFL team, or recently cut by one.
“We are thrilled to be able to participate with ESPN3 and WatchESPN ” Woods said in a press release.
“The ability to stream the League’s games via the Internet will provide FXFL fans with an opportunity to see out-of-market games, and ultimately showcase our players, coaches and referees as the next generation of professional talent.”
Securing a television commitment from ESPN doesn’t necessarily assure success for the future of the FXFL. Many leagues have tried and failed even with the backing of major networks on over-air television platforms. Getting the XFL, for example, on network TV didn't guarantee future prosperity.
But Woods and his league want to be taken out of the “fledging” and “startup” category not by competing with the most popular league in the United States, but rather by supplementing and supporting it.
“Our long-term goal is to forge a partnership with the NFL and to absolutely make it a true minor-league system, where at some point we can could be like the D-league, be like the MLB minor leagues where we have contractual affiliation,” Woods said.
“We’re going to be very transparent, in no way shape or form is it our intention to compete with the NFL. We’re going to play Tuesday and Wednesday nights.”
And not for nothing, it means a lot more to be able to say those games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights will be available to millions of viewers thanks to the stamp of approval by ESPN.