By Peter Schwartz
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There was a time, many years ago, when Brooklyn played host to professional football. From 1930 to 1943, the Brooklyn Dodgers played in the NFL and called Ebbets Field their home. In 1944, the team changed its name to the Brooklyn Tigers but merged with the Boston Yanks in 1945 because of financial difficulties.
Before that, the Brooklyn Tigers began playing in the NFL in 1926 but later changed their name to the Brooklyn Horsemen. The franchise left the NFL for the All-America Football Conference in 1946.
Fast forward 68 years and Brooklyn is back in the professional football business.
Last week, the FXFL (Fall Experimental Football League) — a new developmental league that hopes to one day become a partner with the NFL — announced that the Brooklyn Bolts will be one of four teams that will play in the league’s inaugural 2014 season. The Bolts will play at Coney Island’s MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.
“New York is an important market to us for several reasons,” said FXFL Founder and Commissioner Brian Woods. “Number one, for the media presence. And, obviously, the partnership with the Brooklyn Cyclones embodies our business model for this league.”
That model includes containing costs, smaller venues and taking advantage of partnering with a minor-league baseball team that already has an infrastructure in place. The Cyclones will provide the Bolts with marketing support in an area that has developed a craving for professional sports.
In 2001, Brooklyn witnessed the return of professional baseball with the Cyclones. Then, in 2012, the New Jersey Nets relocated to Brooklyn to play at Barclays Center. In 2015, the Islanders will join the Nets on Atlantic Avenue after their 43rd and final season at Nassau Coliseum.
Come this October, Brooklyn sports fans will get a peek at some young football stars that hope to use the FXFL as their ticket back to the NFL.
“We’re a developmental league first and foremost,” said Woods. “That’s a priority for us. We see ourselves as the unofficial developmental league for the National Football League.”
At some point, Woods is hoping that his new league can drop the “un” and become the official developmental league of the NFL. The FXFL feels that it can develop young players, work with coaches, serve as a training ground for prospective NFL referees and test out rule revisions.
For its first season, the FXFL will have four teams playing a six-game schedule. The Bolts will be joined by the Florida Blacktips, Omaha Mammoths and a yet-to-be-named team in Boston. Each club will play each other twice and will have 40 players that will have the ability to leave if an NFL team is interested.
“The contract structure in the FXFL is extremely flexible,” said Woods. “We’ll afford a player the option of returning to an NFL team immediately. If a player comes to us — even if he’s with us for a day or with us for three weeks — if the New York Jets come calling that player is going to be free and released from our contract.”
Woods estimates that 90-95 percent of the FXFL’s players will come directly from NFL training camps. In fact, some players that were cut this past weekend signed with the FXFL on Monday.
The new league will use NFL rules but it is open to discussing or possibly revising the extra point, an experiment that the NFL used during the first two weeks of preseason this year.
“Outside of that change, you’re going to see NFL rules being utilized,” said Woods.
Abiding by those rules will be players that were in NFL training camps and playing in preseason games. They head to the FXFL after going through a summer of practice, classroom sessions and game experience.
“This is going to be an NFL-caliber product on the field,” said Woods. “The product on the field is going to be exceptional and we really feel like the fans are going to be excited. These are the top young players. Some of them might just need a year or two to develop.”
Off the field, the FXFL and the Brooklyn Bolts are hoping to give fans a unique game-day experience. Part of that will include a chance to interact with the players at postgame autograph sessions.
You’re not getting that access at MetLife Stadium.
“We’re hoping for an outstanding game-day experience, and I think we can provide that to our fan base,” said Woods.
The fans will see a field at MCU Park that runs parallel to the first-base line and will be angled slightly towards right-center field. They will be able to start circling dates on their calendars later this week when the FXFL releases its schedule and announces its television partners.
For more information on the FXFL go to www.fxfl.com.
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