Why no NFL spring league?

From what I understand, the NFL wants to build a revenue stream year-round, especially considering their cable TV network. So why not make a spring pro football league that would serve as a minor/developmental league for the NFL? It could have NFL rules, NFL refs, and players tied to NFL teams (like other minor leagues), and would serve as a good proving ground for both players and coaches.

One possible way to do it: call it NFL2, and it has 16 teams. Each team is shared by a geographically-compatible AFC and NFC team to put developing players- for example, the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans might share a team in Little Rock, AR or OK City. 4 Divisions, 12 games per season, with a 4 team playoff at the end.

What’s the downside, as far as the NFL is concerned?

Why spend money when colleges do it for them?

Basketball is in high gear and Spring Training is going on in baseball. Who would pay to see inferior football?

You just described NFL Europe.

True, and begs a whole shitload of questions…

Indeed. Losing $30 million a year seems like a pretty big downside.

Yup. The NFL ran NFL Europe for two reasons:

  1. Serve as a developmental league
  2. Build interest in American football among Europeans

#1 didn’t pan out terribly well, as only a handful of Europe players (most notably Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme) had any real impact in the NFL.

#2 was probably questionable, too, outside of Germany, which is where they did see some success in keeping teams going.

A US-based league would avoid the second issue, but the first issue would probably kill the idea. I doubt that most of the league’s teams would see the investment as worthwhile.

Here’s an article from ESPN.com, written just after the NFL pulled the plug on the league:

NFL Europe did happen to provide development opportunities for officials, which is a shame, given the near continuous complaining about the zebras.

But that’s hardly a viable reason on its own to start up a new development league.


Spring and summer leagues have been tried (e.g. WFL, XFL, USFL, WLAF/NFL Europe).

In my opinion, all of them have failed for one reason: nobody really cares about football except in the fall. You also can’t really have a “development league” playing at a different time than the “main league” if one of the reasons for the DL is to get players ready for the main league, as the DL’s players’ training would be out of sync with the main league.

I think the big problem with football at it’s lower levels is that it just pales in comparison to what the NFL and Major College Football do to perfection. They have the TV contracts and the cheerleaders and the marching bands and the flyovers and the coveted weekend time slots. Lower level leagues have none of that, and that exposes the real flaw of American Football - purely as a game, stripped of all the associated pomp and circumstance, it kinda sucks.

Football requires a lot of players, too many officials, the rules are extensive and often too subjective, and it is prone to injuries and violence. Women don’t have anything like an equivalent sport. Think about it - outside of throwing a ball around, you almost never see anything resembling the game being played outside of highly organized leagues. Sure, there are some flag football leagues around, but they are generally populated by guys in their early 20’s who don’t play the game for more than a year or two before moving on. Compare that with basketball, which is played as a pick-up game indoors and out, and organized leagues are all over the place, for men and women of any age. They have leagues for guys 50 years and up. Same for softball, baseball’s gentler cousin. Soccer, too. Hockey is a little tougher due to finding ice, but pond hockey is always being played in Canada and the Northern tier of US States.

There’s a reason American football hasn’t spread outside of North America while basketball is universal. Basketball needs a minimum of space, even a single hoop will do. You don’t need a lot of people or equipment, and the rules are simple. Soccer is the same. Baseball needs more space and equipment, but it has taken off in Asia and the Caribbean/Central America.

Football, stripped of it’s other sources of entertainment, just isn’t that popular either to spectators or participants. FCS football, the second tier of college football, but still a high level that sends multiple players to the NFL every year, averages under 10,000 spectators, and that is skewed by a dozen or so schools that are the only game in town and have high attendance like the Dakota schools. A FCS game with median attendance has about the same number of spectators as does a single A baseball game.