Spring football league readies for the gridiron, despite financial hurdle.
From his office in Lakewood Ranch, Frank Murtha and his team at Major League Football have gone on the offense.
Despite losing a commitment for $20 million in startup investor funds from Clairemont Private Investment Group, the organization has been aggressive moving the startup spring professional football league forward, albeit on a slightly modified timeline.
It was slated to start spring training at Premier Sports Campus approximately Feb. 18, but likely will postpone training by a few weeks. It started its free agent signing period of 80 players, as scheduled, on Feb. 15.
“There’s nothing that changed our plans to be headquartered here and doing the training here for a significant period of time,” said Murtha, MLFB’s senior vice president. “While this was a hiccup, it wasn’t a sinkhole for our league or our plans. The impact on it has been relatively minimal because we did have backup plans and additional financing plans that were in place. It just required some slight alterations on vendors and partners.”
Logistics will prove the most challenging piece of the puzzle.
The league had made hotel, catering and other arrangements with vendors to support its training camp, which is scheduled to bring in 800 players, plus about 100 coaches and support staff for its eight teams for about one month.
MLFB had hoped to place each team at one of its selected partner hotels. Now, it will have to utilize additional hotels and split up teams, based on room availability during the tourism and baseball seasons. Murtha said preliminary discussions show hotels will be able to support the league’s housing needs overall.
The Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch and its sister hotel, the Fairfield Inn & Suites, had been slated to supply rooms for players and staff, 64 double rooms for players at the Holiday Inn and about 25 for coaches and staff at Fairfield, but no longer will be able to do so.
Rob Ferguson, the director of sales at the Holiday Inn, said MLFB’s delay into April conflicts with rowing events scheduled in the area. Although his hotel would have availability during the week, weekends are booked until May. Other hotels will face similar problems.
The Holiday Inn released hotel rooms reserved for FMLB about three weeks ago and has been working diligently to replace lost business. Ferguson said hotel rooms should be easily filled because of seasonal guests, but replacing revenues from catering and meeting space will prove challenging. Holiday Inn is contacting customers it turned away to see if it can replace lost business.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity of this happening in our area,” Ferguson said. “We want to be a part of it when it happens. First years are always tough.”
MLFB also will have to make sure Premier Sports Campus can offer 10 fields for play, as previously committed.
Premier’s director of sports, Antonio Saviano, said he awaits finalized dates, but has every indication play will start soon at Premier.
League officials expect to announce training dates sometime the week of Feb. 22.
“There’s a bunch of moving parts here,” Murtha said. “We couldn’t just say, ‘We’re ready to go.’”
Although MLFB officials said the league’s financial security is OK, it has filed with the SEC disclosing Clairemont Private Investment Group breached its contract to invest in the league and it plans to pursue legal remedies against Clairemont officials involved in the deal.
“We are working diligently to make sure these athletes get to chase their dream of playing professional football,” said Nick Athan, the MLFB vice president of media relations. “The community has been great and our business partners in the community have been great. Everyone wants us to succeed. I think everybody understands our drive comes from the fact these young kids have given so much of themselves and prepared themselves to play professional football.”
Murtha said, “We’re not letting it stop us from playing.”
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