Professional football is kicking off in Birmingham this spring.
The North American Football League, a startup professional league, has announced its chartering franchises. The Birmingham Freedom is among the eight franchises, along with Memphis, Orlando and Columbus, Ohio.
The city’s crucial role in the Civil Rights Movement is what inspired the franchise’s identity. According to Naflenterprises.com, “The team name ‘Freedom,’ the eagle in the team’s logo and the colors red, dark blue and medium blue all are symbolic of the role Birmingham played in this important period in American history.”
Although the name and colors are already determined, the Freedom’s coaching staff and home stadium have yet to be announced. Legion Field is certainly a likely option.
The precedent set by previous professional football startups, such as the XFL, a joint venture between NBC and the WWE that only lasted one season before collapsing in 2001, is hardly optimistic. Regardless, the NAFL projects aggressive growth and plans to expand with four more teams every two years through at least 2019. The league will own teams for at least four years, but once some financial stability is achieved, they will become publicly traded—something the NAFL called a “historical first.”
Avid Auburn football fan, Birmingham native and senior music education major Taylor Stricklin is curious but cautious about the Freedom and the NAFL. “From what I’ve seen in the past, I don’t think it will be very successful,” he said. “I do think it will be good entertainment value for people who are interested in football, like myself, and want to see something going on in the spring, which is the off season for college football.”
Although he stopped short of declaring himself a Freedom fan, Stricklin said he was “open to going to the games and supporting the team.” He thinks $20-$30 would be a fair ticket price.
Fan engagement is the league’s ploy for success. Rules of competition will be standard and traditional American football rules. However, technology will allow fans to directly participate in the league’s draft and even help call plays during games. The league will broadcast live games and reality shows involving the teams via stream on its own sports network.
According to President Christopher White, the NAFL is not designed to be a “developmental” league for the National Football League, as the NCAA partially is. It is instead designed to be a fully professional, yet non-competitive, spring counterpart to the NFL.
The NAFL will hold its first draft in Nashville, Tennessee. As announced on October 1, players will report to camp April 20, and the first regular season matchups will be played May 16 and 17. The NAFL championship game will take place during the second weekend of July.
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