The NFL has a stranglehold on us as viewers, which has made it nearly impossible for another professional football league to make a lasting impression over the last three decades. The Fan Controlled Football League is one of the latest to make a run at competing on the big stage. Former quarterback of the Zappers, Jason Stewart, was cut from the team after throwing a TD pass, then lighting up a joint to celebrate.
Arena Football League has probably been the most successful alternative pro league, having a 30-year run. The AFL certainly had its ups and downs over the years. But any new league has to be different from the NFL. Arena football was built around passing the ball when the NFL was still a run-first league. In the 1990s, that set the AFL apart from the NFL. Also, the AFL plays on a smaller field, which allows for more scoring.
There’s really no competing with the NFL anymore. Any league that has come along and tried its hand since the turn of the century has failed horribly. The XFL tried and failed, the USFL is back, and it’s likely to suffer the same fate.
Even a league like the FCFL, which sounds innovative, having fans play a hand in actual game scenarios, hasn’t moved the needle much. That’s when you get the type of antics we saw from the Zappers former QB, Stewart. Sure, his clip got the league some mentions, retweets, and write-ups. But in a couple days, no one will be talking about it, and Stewart lost his job behind the stunt.
If this is what a league is reduced to doing for attention, then it won’t be around long. It already feels gimmicky having fans involved in calling plays. Now you’ve got a player smoking to celebrate a passing TD. I have no issue with marijuana, but that is just a little over the top.
Another reason these new professional leagues don’t last is because all of the best talent is in the NFL. Or they’re still in college on their way to the NFL. Whether they are on the main roster or just the practice squad. Every player wants to be in the NFL. Every guy playing in the FCFL or new USFL hopes to play well enough to catch an NFL team’s attention.
So, even if these leagues have some success, the NFL will eventually find the players that are good enough to fill even minor roles on an NFL squad. That’ll force a lot of turnover on rosters for these upstart leagues. It’ll be tough to really establish anything concrete for their teams.
In the 1980s, the original USFL came closest to matching the talent level in the NFL. The USFL featured players like Reggie White, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, and Hershel Walker before he lost his mind. Three of those four players eventually moved on to have Hall of Fame NFL careers, and the fourth was seen as one of the best running backs of the decade. In 1985 Walker was the highest-paid football player in the country while playing for the New Jersey Generals, raking in $1.5 million.
That was long before the NFL controlled the market the way it does today. The NFL is worth billions of dollars in 2022, and there’s no chance of any other league having the resources to pay players anywhere near what the National Football League can.
We haven’t seen the end of these fly-by-night leagues, though. They’ll continue to pop up, generate a small niche fan base, then quickly cease to exist. Even if you aren’t competing with the NFL directly, you’re still competing with the NFL. Their business is year-round now, and it’s hard to beat NFL coverage. News outlets know the NFL equals ratings, page views, and revenue.
Yes, alternatives are good to have and talk about from time to time. Americans love football. But I think we’ve seen enough evidence to prove that it’s not just any football. We love the NFL. Other leagues don’t have the talent to hold the attention of the masses. So, it will be the same cycle each time a new alternative pops up.