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Interview: American Spring Football League CEO Michael Dwyer

25 questions with the founder of a 2023 spring professional football league

The origins of professional football were rooted in small-to-medium cities. Each team was made up of locals and represented their community. When the Dayton (Ohio) Triangles went down the road and crossed over state lines into Illinois to play the Rock Island Independents, each roster was made up of firemen, police officers, butchers, construction workers, dentists, teachers and an assortment of men who played for the civic pride of their city. And they also represented local athletic clubs.

Many of these men had played college football, and some had played professionally in makeshift leagues. At games, they charged a gate, hired referees, rented a field and was paid whatever was left over.

Eventually, clubs dropped out and other teams were added. Eventually, more and more huge city teams were added such as Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But the medium cities were still part of the NFL landscape. The Green Bay Packers still are.

The United Football League featured Las Vegas’ first pro football team the Las Vegas Locomotives

There have been several professional football leagues that have started up and then just as suddenly folded their tents. Besides NFL rival league the World Football League from 1974-1975, there was the USFL (1983-1985), Regional Football League (1999), XFL1 (2001), United Football League (2009-2012), The Spring League (2016-2021), Alliance of American Football (2019), XFL2 (2020) and now a new version of the USFL beginning this spring.

And beginning in 2023, the debut of the American Spring Football League (ASFL).

What were the main issues with those other professional football leagues? Money. Not enough of it to be exact.

Leagues such as the All-America Football Conference (1946-1949) which later merged three clubs into the NFL, the sixth American Football League from 1960-1969 which eventually merged all 10 teams with the NFL, and the United States Football League (USFL) were all “NFL rival leagues.” This meant they sought out and signed various NFL veteran and rookie players and hired away coaches. This basically began huge salary wars.

The Continental Football League from 1965-1969 plus NFL Europe were “NFL farm system leagues” set up to drop players into these entities in order to get more experience and eventually be called up to play for their NFL parent clubs. These leagues had direct association with the NFL.

Those other leagues mentioned were strictly considered “developmental leagues.” Their premise was to take players who weren’t playing pro ball and sign them in order for these athletes to one day be able to join an NFL training camp or roster.

But the ASFL isn’t categorized in any of these concepts according to founder and CEO Michael Dwyer. This will be a professional football entity no doubt, but a stand alone league.

Dwyer grew up in Southern California along with twin brothers. Dwyer has five children and is happily married. He is also a huge fan of professional football although he has never been employed by any team.

The ASFL will begin play next spring in 8 or 9 cities. These teams will play in medium markets that have large stadium venues available for this league’s competition, just not right now. The walk before you can run theory seems to be the ASFL’s motto.

Here is the footprint for the ASFL on social media:

LINK: ASFL FACEBOOK PAGE

LINK: ASFL TWITTER

LINK: ASFL INSTAGRAM

DawgsByNature caught up with CEO Dwyer to discuss his new league, if this new entity is league-owned like the AAF, the XFL and the new USFL have all been set-up, and how his new league will be funded.


DBN: You are the founder of the American Spring Football League (ASFL). What gave you this idea to begin another professional football league?

Dwyer: That started 14 years ago. I was trying to get the United States Football League up and running and worked a deal with someone who was supposed to purchase the trademark and everything. Before the deal could be done, he ended up going to prison for embezzling of the company he was working with before. And the attorney he had brought in stole my trademark. I didn’t find out until FOX announced the USFL was coming back. In the process of that, I decided to keep going the business plan I had. Because it looked like everyone else kept doing the same thing. That kinda gave me the fire to show everyone how to do it right. We are going to stay within our means and be grassroots.

DBN: When will this new league play its first game?

Dwyer: We wanted to begin in 2022 but with COVID and other restrictions, we will re-announce that 2023 as the final start date for us. Then we will set the markets and the teams and so on.

DBN: Why play in the spring instead of the fall?

Dwyer: That is a place that a lot of people have said you aren’t going to find a lot of sports fans. We aren’t looking for sports fans. We are looking for football fans. That is all the more reason we are starting in the smaller stadiums. We’re here for the football fans. Plus, it would be suicide to go up against the fall league. They’re the giants and we’re just trying to find our niche. This league is never going to the fall. In the past people have come into a league like this and talked others to go against the NFL. It’s just not going to happen. It’s a spring league – the markets there, but it has to be done right.

DBN: How many clubs will be part of the maiden season, and any firm cities that you can divulge?

Dwyer: That will be announced after we get the stadium deals done. We are looking at 8-9 teams in the first season. We like some cities in Texas like Austin, San Antonio, Ft. Worth, Waco, El Paso. We also like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia. Cities like Orlando, Florida or Columbus, Ohio or Jackson, Mississippi or Birmingham, Alabama. We want places that want us. Anyone that wants to buck us we will move on to the next city. But as far as any cities in the XFL or the USFL, we have no problem going up against those leagues head-to-head.

DBN: When the NFL began in 1920, every team was in earshot of a bus or train ride. Will this league be nationally-based or regionally for transportation cost reasons?

Dwyer: Teams that are more Midwestern and Southeastern to start. The luxury about this business plan is we do have spots in between that fill in the travel. In the beginning we will be regionally-based instead of nationally-based because of the transportation costs. We are not going to tell you we are going to be coast-to-coast and in the big stadiums. We are going to be in the small to medium markets, we are going to be here for long haul, and we want to be part of those communities.

DBN: Is this league private ownership like the NFL, or league-owned teams?

Dwyer: The first funding will be crowdfunding for the league office. There will be a couple of teams that will be crowd funded because we want to make sure we get into that market no matter what, but eventually all these teams will be privately-owned. The old American Football League, those owners helped each other until they didn’t need it anymore. We want single franchise owners who will do revenue-sharing. That brings incentive to do right by these teams. And the league office has to run a same budget as everyone else working with elbow grease and grassroots. Hopefully people will see what we want to do and win them over.

DBN: Recently, the AAF competed then shut down because of inadequate funding, then the XFL began but also closed because of the pandemic. Why will your new league continue on while others have failed?

Dwyer: The biggest reason is we are not using the same business plan. Everyone of these leagues, everyone one of them that have come up, you can blow smoke but when you get it launched, when the smoke clears – where’s the funding? It’s sad these guys come in and do the same things. We could have started this a couple of years ago but the foundation wasn’t ready. We can’t overpay for players. We are not going to be in the stadiums that are way too big with huge leases. I would rather sell-out the medium stadiums and get our footing first and part of the community. We want that feeling of the college games and you just can’t accomplish that with huge stadiums and a smaller turnout.

DBN: How many players will be comprised as roster limits, and what is the process to fill each team’s roster?

Dwyer: Right now we are looking at a 43 to 46-man roster. The key guy for each of these teams will be the director of player personnel. We will have a territorial draft with “X” amount of colleges assigned to each team. After that, we will have a regular draft. You will never see us doing open tryouts for players or a system of charging guys for a tryout and that nonsense. We are not here to make money off of the sweat and dreams of these guys.

DBN: The pandemic seemed to be going away, and now may be back. Is this a concern to start a new league?

Dwyer: That is the reason we put things on hold one more year. It is really not a concern for us right now as we are using the same guidelines as the NFL. This gives us an opportunity to see what they are going through and dealing with. Going to 2023 gives us more time for advertising, to bring more people in and change some things. I’m really excited about it. We’ll be prepared.

DBN: The USFL in 1983 had a very good business plan that was geared to stabilize the league and not over-extend financially. And that was “The Dixon Plan” named after David Dixon. That blueprint was a financial plan that would limit the league’s spending on player salaries and generate sufficient revenue from network and cable broadcasts and gate revenues to assure that the USFL would be in the black in its first year of operations. Yet, the loose purses of that league soon opened up. What measures will be in place to ensure that player and coaches salaries aren’t the eventual ruination of the league?

Dwyer: David was the greatest guy and had good visions while he was alive. He founded the USFL and stayed with that league until certain owners He was in a meeting with some of these owners and he realized it wasn’t at all what he envisioned – and he got out. So to me to ensure we don’t repeat history, we have in place a very strict salary cap for players and coaches that is much smaller to fit the markets we are going to be in. Hopefully the owners we have will know that here is our budget and you can’t spend more than you are going to make.

DBN: How will the league be funded in its first year?

Dwyer: Each owner that comes in will have to place “X” amount of money in that escrow account that the league will oversee. The league is going to oversee worker’s comp. The escrow account will make sure that the league can hold these owners accountable to financial responsibilities and step in and use these accounts with anything from salaries to travel to leases. But this is just a fail safe. These owners should be paying these things all along. And if we have to start using funds in the escrow account, that team will up for sale. And when the new owner comes on board, the league will pay all the old bills and then give the old owner whatever is left over from that escrow account. And if any owner has a problem with that, this isn’t the league for you. You will never see this league fold in the middle of the year and players not paid. The ASFL is not going to be a part of that. I am proud of the fact that these are the things we have in place.

DBN: Several leagues in the past have been NFL rival leagues taking veteran and rookie players, plus coaches, scouts and front office personnel. Other leagues were set up as a farm system. And yet other entities were strictly developmental leagues. Which do you see this league being?

Dwyer: We are a stand-alone professional football league that plays in the spring. Just because our budget is not the same as the NFL does not mean we aren’t professional. This will be done professionally. Any former players that have played in any other professional league, they would have to play for what we pay. The same with any rookies. This would be a great place to gain some footage if any player had the opportunity to move on. We will have an open door policy with our contracts that allow freedom of movement with other leagues. We are not going to hold anybody back. We have hopes that everybody that plays in our league will get the maximum coverage of their career. This is not minor league. We hope that by Year 5 this league will double in size and have to move up to larger stadiums. Every city we choose will have a bigger stadium close by and remain in the community. We are not a group of owners looking for the next best stadium deal.

DBN: Will this league be affiliated with the NFL, CFL or any other league?

Dwyer: No, none whatsoever. We do have thoughts on working with the NFL in regards to their officials. Would be a great training ground. That is the only thing I can see us being involved with as far as another league.

DBN: Is there a broadcasting partner in place?

Dwyer: Not yet, but we are in the beginning stages of negotiations. Obviously FOX is not going to be in the mix since they have partnered with the return of the USFL.

DBN: What will ticket prices be like?

Dwyer: Average about $25 to $30. We will see what each fan base is like and make sure mom and dad can bring the family to a game and not worry about having to take out a loan. Or just be able to go to one game – one year. We want families to go to multiple games. We will no preseason games and are working on season packages especially for season ticket holders starting with a Bar-B-Q to start off the year and access to several things that normal fans will not have access to. A Kid’s Corner with affordable hot dogs and soft drinks.

DBN: The AAF structured their player contracts that each player signed a one-year deal but had to remain with their respective club until the end of the current AAF season. The Arena League allowed players to opt out at any time. Will player contracts become just a one-year deal, multi-year or are these players able to leave their respective team if the NFL or CFL make them an offer?

Dwyer: Any league that makes them an offer these players are free to go. No monetary compensation we wish them the best. Within the ASFL? No. Each team will have rights to players. This is our route to start this league – it is the responsible thing to do. But each player will under one-year contracts for their first season, then multi-year contracts up to three years if they stay and their team still wants them. But we hope each player will eventually become legends in the pro football world.

DBN: What will be the player salaries?

Dwyer: The owners will vote on that. Probably comparable to the Arena League when they were operational. It is not NFL or the CFL.

DBN: What can fans expect from an ASFL game?

Dwyer: They will be able to see these players compete fighting tooth and nail because each one wants a chance at an NFL contract. Every game these teams will get better with excitement and a few different rules but nothing that changes the game. I think you will see a sense of community pride and ownership.

DBN: Every new league has different variation of rules. What are yours?

Dwyer: Nothing that is far-fetched. A four point field goal from 55-yards or greater. A 30-second clock that will speed up the game. There are a few others that are being discussed like bringing back the onside kick. Nothing really outside of the NFL that will be too differently.

DBN: What will the league championship game be called?

Dwyer: That will be discussed among the owners as well. Right now it just referred to as the championship game. I would like to call it “The Dixon Cup” to honor David and all he did for professional football. I think he is the most underappreciated person in professional football.

DBN: The USFL was an NFL rival league and competed in the spring for three seasons. Then, they made plans to switch to the fall beginning in 1986 but never did. At some point, will the ASFL switch to a fall schedule?

Dwyer: Never. Ever.

DBN: Recently it was announced that the USFL was making a comeback with eight clubs. The XFL has stated they will return. Both of these are spring leagues. And then another league was announced called “Major League Football” to play a fall schedule maybe this year or the next. That is quite a bit of competition for one sport. Your thoughts?

Dwyer: If you are going to play in the fall against the NFL good luck. The other spring leagues we will set up and compete with them. We are the only league that will begin in the smaller stadiums and grow within its means that will pay its players what these areas and owners can afford to pay them. And those other leagues have all these well-known coaches coming in. Well, those coaches were all unemployed. These leagues didn’t hire away any coach that had a job coaching a current team, did they? Or hire away anybody from a big college program. Nobody jockeying for a job. You will see a lot of coaches in our league get hired after their season with us as they have proved their worth. A lot of these leagues just went out and made all the same mistakes they did before and then lost a bunch of money. They still hemorrhaged millions of dollars. The XFL had their commissioner on a $3 million contract. For what?

DBN: With all these other leagues looking to share the same pie, will getting enough players to fill rosters become an issue?

Dwyer: Not at all. Look at all the kids in college that come out every year who never get a chance to play. There will be former NFL players in all these leagues. A lot never actually play in a game and get cut and then go from team-to-team and keep getting cut. Every year NFL teams start with 90 players then end up with 53. That is a lot of players looking for a place to keep their dreams alive.

College football coaching legend Jackie Sherrill (L) and ASFL CEO Michael Dwyer

DBN: Why will your league succeed when so many others have come and gone?

Dwyer: I know it doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s just football playing the way it was meant to be played. Hard-nosed, hard work and an opportunity to go on. As responsible owners in the ASFL, you got to greet your ego at the door and this is your budget. This is our travel plan, this is our pay scale for players, this is our pay scale for coaches and our front office. And the biggest reason for our success: owners. We have owners. We will have more of a college feel to it than a league that is trying to sell you an NFL extension.

DBN: What is the one thing you are most excited about as far as the ASFL?

Dwyer: Bringing affordable professional football to families plus the jobs that will be created in these communities. The AAF and XFL and USFL hurt a lot of families when they fell apart because of the people who were working for these teams that the league never had a chance to know. We want to be heavy in the community and will start with an “ASFL Awareness Tour” where we go into cities so that these fans know who we are and what we stand for and meet the owners. We are going to donate $2 for every ticket sold for local and league charities especially children’s hospitals. Our message will be we are coming and we want to be a part of your community.