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Interview: Major League Football CEO Frank Murtha

25 questions with the founder of a new spring football league

There have been quite a few NFL rival leagues since the 1920 season. All came and went. Two were successful in having some of their member clubs merge into the established league. But most just bled money and went quietly into the night.

There have only been two official farm system leagues that the NFL had financial and player ties to. The Continental Football League operated from 1965-1969 with a format of three NFL clubs sending players to a single team as their official farm club. NFL Europe was a huge success that had teams in European cities to introduce the game of American Football to those countries plus was a farm system set up to give the bottom third players more experience and also to incorporate free agents. That league operated from 1999-2007.

Other leagues such as the XFL and the AAF came right out and stated they were strictly a developmental league. This enabled players not on a current NFL or CFL roster a place to continue their dreams.

Another spring league debuted this spring, the USFL2, with a 12-week schedule culminated with their championship game on July 3.

This summer (and not next spring as first reported), Major League Football (MLFB) will also debut.

Frank Murtha is the CEO of MLFB. He is stating that this league won’t be an NFL rival league nor should it be classified as a developmental league – although players will further develop their skills there.

MLFB will begin in four cities that are medium-sized markets. They won’t be playing in NFL cities which means you won’t be seeing 16,000 patrons huddled together on one side of a 75,000-seat stadium. Murtha also states that this league won’t compete with Major League Baseball because their clubs won’t be situated in cities with MLB teams. They concede that they can make money on crowds of 15,000 and flourish.

The thought process is to rent smaller venues, like the ones Major League Soccer uses in the neighborhood of 15,000-30,000 seats. They realize that if their crowds get larger than that is a good problem to have, but initially they want the medium more intimate stadiums. Coaches already signed on are Jerry Glanville, Terry Shea, Earnest Wilson and Bill Conley.

“Every MLFB player was an outstanding college player,” stated Glanville. “Our goal is to help them grow into a professional player and improve their skills and play, increasing their opportunities to join the NFL. Watching them grow and improve is the joy of teaching and coaching.”

Here is the footprint for MLFB on social media:

LINK: MAJOR LEAGUE FOOTBALL WEBSITE

LINK: FACEBOOK PAGE

LINK: TWITTER ACCOUNT

Murtha grew up in the Chicagoland area. He is a former prosecutor and teaches one class a year at Northwestern University, but please don’t call him Professor. At one time, he was a sports agent with about 25 MLB clients, 25-30 NFL players and over 50 minor league baseball players. Some of his notable clients were Wade Boggs, pitcher Randy Johnson and former Browns QB Mike Phipps. Murtha is married with five children and 11 grandchildren.

Major League Football is a public company and publicly traded. Here is information on MarketWatch.com:

LINK: MAJOR LEAGUE FOOTBALL STOCK WATCH

MLFB has been in the works for several years. Whereas leagues such as the XFL began play despite COVID restrictions, this league decided to stand pat one more year before its launch. MLFB completed the required SEC filings and reports in 2018 and are in full compliance. This allowed the league to proceed with new investors and still try to schedule field activity.

AAF helmets

Just prior to the filing of their most recent 10 Q on December 14th 2021, MLFB received a $5,000,000 Equity Purchase Term Sheet. In addition, the league purchased all of the football inventory, office and computer equipment from the defunct AAF.

DawgsByNature caught up with CEO Murtha to discuss if this new entity is individual owners or league-owned, what he bought from the defunct AAF, and how why this new league will not fail whereas so many others have.

Editor’s note: this interview took place several months ago


DBN: You are one of the founders of Major League Football (MLFB). What gave you this idea to begin another professional football league?

Murtha: Our concept pre-dates the second USFL, the AAF and even the XFL. The AAF proved the concept that people will come out and watch football in the spring. They did a great job of presenting themselves as a league with the stadium ribbons and field markings. It looked good. The television ratings were good. They did two things for us: they proved our concept, and did a great job at presentation. But they overspent each month. Our concept hasn’t changed and value the model of NFL Europe. They put about 300 players in the NFL and got coached-up.

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

Murtha: We will begin summer of 2022. We will begin in four cities to start. We first released a list of 10 city candidates. Then play the championship game. The small-to-medium venues will work. It hurts the fan experience for people to be in a huge stadium with a smaller number of fans, plus the cost of keeping the lights on plus a big lease.

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

Murtha: In the fall the space is way too crowded. You are not competing with just the NFL for fans, but you are competing with college football and also the high school level. So there is the game of football all over the place. At all levels. That was an easy call for us. And our players can compete and be available in time for NFL training camps if they get called. We never plan on going to the fall.

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

Murtha: We had talked about six teams initially, but it became four. Little Rock, Arkansas is one. Another team in Virginia Beach is another certainty along with Canton, Ohio. We have named the first four the Arkansas Attack, Ohio Force, Virginia Armada and a fourth team to be called Alabama Airborne. The Little Rock team will play in War Memorial Stadium, Canton’s venue is the Hall of Fame Bowl whereas the Virginia Beach Sportsplex will host the Armada.

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?

Murtha: Eventually it will be nationally-based. We are not going to be a bus league. In some instances that will be true to travel that way, but it is only because of the cities we have chosen to place teams. We are going to fly our players and coaches to games. We are not picking our initial cities due to their close proximity to each other. Our plans are to expand to eight teams the following year.

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

Murtha: We are a single entity league ownership. Just like MLS. We borrowed the model from them. And all of our teams are owned by our share holders. We think that has some appeal to people with the popularity of fantasy football. Our stock certificates you can buy and sell them. We will operate from a corporate standpoint out of our headquarters in South Florida. Now down the road it is possible we could sell off some portions of franchises, but the league itself will continue to be the primary owner.

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?

Murtha: Number one is our cost structure. We have recognized that we don’t have to play in the larger stadiums and don’t have to play the players some of the salaries that they paid. Plus the AAF paid housing in hotels and fed them three times a day. They had loaded office staff and had 20-30 employees in each city like they were NFL franchises. So unnecessary overhead. Our goal is to provide a quality product, a quality football experience that can be managed well. We are well-researched about the cost structure. We know that there is more quality football players than there are jobs and need refinement of their skills.

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

Murtha: We are going to bring 70 players to camp and cut that to 53. We are not going to have a practice squad, so 53 active players per team. We have been updating our database of available players and not have a draft but at first allocate players to even out the talent. We will bring them all to one location. We will be able to balance out each roster. We want to be competitive. And since the league owns the teams, at least coming out of camp we can make those adjustments initially. We will probably hold a draft the second year.

DBN: The pandemic seemed to be going away, and was thought to be back with uncertainty in the air. Is this a concern to start a new league?

Murtha: It’s a concern and was an unknown. We had waited and contemplated a demonstration season about a year- and-a-half ago. And between facility issues and restrictions, just the cost of testing during per-vaccination stages just didn’t justify it and waiting was the answer. The pandemic may still be an issue, but our players are going to have to be vaccinated. We aren’t going to play in a bubble. Right now all of stadiums aren’t making masks mandatory. It is a concern I would rather not have and are very mindful of that. We have one of the best athletic trainers in the country named Mayfield Armstrong who for years worked for Dr. James Andrews.

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 your league?

Murtha: The biggest remedy is that all players will be paid the same salaries except quarterbacks. Because we are a single entity form of ownership, there won’t be any anti-trust possible remedies that can be brought against us. It is a standardized form of paying players and coaches, too. And all the assistant coaches will get the same pay. So with the league controlling everything, we don’t have any owners or any wildcats out there. That is done in part so that individual owners can’t want to make their team more competitive and get some expensive players to come in and compete.

Debbie and Frank Murtha

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

Murtha: We’re being funded in part by our stock sales. We have some individual high net worth investors who have purchased stock. And we have the capacity through our public vehicle to raise funds through public sales securities so we are the only sports franchise at any level that is publicly-owned and publicly traded.

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?

Murtha: We are kind of a hybrid. We are certainly not going to be rivals and we have said that. We are not looking to compete against the NFL because we have some long-term relationships with the NFL. We consider ourselves to be a stand-alone league. But we are definitely developing players. We are not afraid to call ourselves a developmental league. We are not going to be a graveyard for guys who are trying to squeeze out one more year.

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

Murtha: We will have no direct affiliation with them. We expect to have a relationship not unlike the XFL announced. We know we can be an innovations system for them. A lot of innovations used in the NFL today came from other leagues like the two-point conversion. We will develop people at all levels.

DBN: Is there a broadcasting partner in place?

Murtha: We have several suitors at this stage and will announcing them. We will definitely be on the air. The one good thing about delaying our start date is that there are more people in the sandbox of broadcasting besides just the letter networks.

DBN: What will ticket prices be like?

Murtha: We are looking at an average ticket price to be $35 to $45 with some tickets priced below $30 and some priced above that. We want this to be an affordable experience for our fans.

Former AAF equipment

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?

Murtha: We are going to allow our players to leave for the NFL at any time. For a while we mulled over if a team was in the playoffs and a player got the call we wouldn’t let them go. But as a practical matter and the way the NFL off-season is structured, if they really want one of our guys we will let them go. But every player will be on one-year deals. We may put a right of first refusal, but will make that determination later. The USFL has an option clause in their player contracts. We haven’t made a decision about allowing our players to go to the CFL. What those guys get paid up there we hope to be competitive to where the guys will want to stay.

DBN: What will be the player salaries?

Murtha: Right now $2,500 a game with a $500 win bonus.

DBN: What can fans expect from an MLFB game?

Murtha: We intend to have a full entertainment-type day. It won’t be we hope to attract the fans to our venues. There will be family activities for young kids to make a true experience with your family. And then a quality football game.

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

Murtha: We are not planning any radical rule changes. We are going to have a slightly shorter time clock. I like the XFL’s kickoff formation so we will have that which gives you the kickoff excitement without the dangers. That is where the front guys are only five-yards from each other but the return guy has some room. I am not saying we aren’t going to have some innovated ideas, but it won’t be like XFL1 where there wasn’t any fair catch. Unless there is a good thing that makes the game better or more efficient. The basic game is what fans come to see.

DBN: What will the league championship game be called?

Murtha: That is a good question. We haven’t named it yet. Maybe one day we could play the XFL or another spring league and play a world bowl or something like that.

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 MLFB switch to a fall schedule?

Murtha: No, absolutely not. Going back to my original answer, there is just too much going on. Just makes common sense. We see no successful space in the fall. Our markets are going to be good football hotbeds and will offer fans the opportunities to see more of the game they enjoy for longer.

DBN: Currently the USFL is 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 the “American Spring Football League ” to play a spring schedule next year. That is quite a bit of competition for one sport. Your thoughts?

Murtha: If the XFL continues with the cities that they had, we aren’t even in the same regions. The USFL is the same with big cities in big stadiums. In large part in the beginning we will be a gate-driven league. We have TV for some revenue at some level and that depends on our ratings. Those are all factors. But I feel there is room for everybody. It is the concept of Major League Baseball which has teams all over the country in small-to-medium markets with farm teams. They have five levels plus the parent club. We know our game will be just a competitive. So I don’t view other leagues forming as something that will harm or hurt us. There is plenty of broadcast space and plenty of fans that want to watch football.

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

Murtha: As a former agent, there were always plenty of players. 1,100-1,200 players every year are cut every year. And as an agent you watched your phone to ring and invariably it did. These are all guys who starred for good football programs and then there is a host of good players who didn’t get signed by anyone. I have represented guys like that. There are almost 15,000 football players coming out each year at all levels with a good number of them good quality guys. We don’t foresee any problem with four or 10 or 12 teams to find enough talent without looking to be an elephant graveyard. Our ideal guys are coming out of college and the ones who have been on an NFL roster or a practice squad and been up and down.

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

Murtha: The fiscal responsibilities that we are going to exercise. We have had five-plus years to plan and iron out the details. Expenses can’t exceed your revenues – it is pretty simple. And we aren’t asking players to play for Arena League salaries of $400-$600 a game. We are installing win bonuses which is a big plus. There are guys playing in these indoor leagues making $250 a week with five players to an apartment. They still love the game and it is their hope that one day someone will see them and elevate them to the next level. And we can be that stepping stone to the show. We have a highly-skilled and knowledgeable front office league staff. My thoughts were with those other leagues is what were they thinking? They were burning millions each week. The AAF was league-owned just like us but they had all these people and executives in each team city. You don’t have to overspend to be successful. I would like to say there is something magical, but it is just common sense and having skilled people who have been in high-levels with sports team franchises.

AAF equipment in storage

DBN: You bought all of the remnants of the AAF. What is involved with that inventory, and what did you pay for it?

Murtha: I saved $2.5 million by buying the AAF’s equipment and electronics. I can outfit eight teams. This includes football equipment, uniforms, stadium banners and those fancy electronic tackling dummies. I have 150 brand new Shutt helmets and 1,000 Riddell shoulder pads. In all, it is over 30,000 individual pieces in a warehouse located in San Antonio. I paid $325,000 plus another $11,000 for the San Francisco office stuff. That included 30 Apple computers. We have TV’s, and these XO systems worth $125,000 each - and I have eight of them. I could open up a Best Buy if I wanted to. If the AAF needed one thing they bought four. I have enough athletic tape to last five years.