- February 9, 2016
LAKEWOOD RANCH — The first-time visit to Lakewood Ranch was enough to charm Major League Football CEO Jerry Vainisi.
After his initial visit in October to the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, Vainisi felt the 146-acre sports complex was the right place for the new professional spring football league to house its headquarters and training camp.
“I didn’t want to look anywhere else,” Vainisi said. “I was all set. This is a really unique facility. There’s a vibrancy about this whole area, and that’s how we feel about the whole league. It just feels like a natural fit.”
Vainisi made a handful of trips between his home in Chicago to Lakewood Ranch, to bring the league’s vision to fruition. By his sixth visit, Vainisi was finally able to announce that Lakewood Ranch would become the second home of the league’s 800 athletes.
On June 5, MLFB executives announced they will move their headquarters and training camp to Lakewood Ranch. The league is slated to move July 1 to its new 9,496-square-foot office space at 6239 University Parkway, Suite 301, in Lakewood Ranch. The inaugural season is scheduled to kick off in the spring.
“I’m very excited to be here,” Vainisi said. “This is great, and it makes us a reality. I call this ‘reality day’ or ‘dream come true day.’ We are delighted and couldn’t be happier that our world headquarters will be here in Lakewood Ranch.
“When we saw Premier, it almost became a no-brainer for us,” Vainisi said. “We think it’s a win-win for Manatee County and Major League Football, and we are truly excited and thankful about the opportunity.”
Major League Football Inc. is a single-entity sports league, which means the league itself owns all 10 of its franchises. However, MLFB is publicly traded, allowing fans and other investors to own a proportionate share of the league.
Plans for MLFB have been underway for seven years, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that the league began looking at Lakewood Ranch. MLFB executives quickly pegged Premier as the ideal spot for the league’s approximately 1,000 players, coaches and staff to train.
At that point, it became about logistics — specifically finding enough hotel space to accommodate everyone during training camp, which will be held in February and March during peak season.
On May 19, the Manatee Board of County Commissioners approved an economic development package, which included a $147,000 Economic Development Incentive Grant and a $61,896 Transportation Impact Fee Incentive.
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh welcomed news of the move.
“I’ve seen this area grow leaps and bounds, and we’ve been fortunate to have all (types) of sports come to Manatee County and Sarasota County,” Baugh said. “To me, this league has a lot of meaning. It’s very special, and I’m thrilled for them to be here with us and (watch) us all grow together.”
“I call this ‘reality day’ or ‘dream come true day.’ We are delighted and couldn’t be happier that our world headquarters will be here ... ”
– Major League Football CEO Jerry Vainisi
MLFB will be home to 10 teams with each team bringing 80 players to training camp. Orlando, Norfolk, Va., Eugene, Ore., Little Rock, Ark., and Birmingham, Ala. all will have teams with five additional non-NFL and MLB cities still to be announced.
With the development of venues such as Premier, Nathan Benderson Park, IMG Academy and the Sarasota Polo Club, Manatee County and the surrounding area have already gotten attention from the sports performance industry.
“Sports is absolutely woven into the fabric of this community. … And now we get to add Major League Football to all this community offers,” Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance Executive Director Heather Kasten said.
“In the fall, my husband and I always say, ‘We interrupt this marriage for football,’” Kasten said. “Now, I can say that in the spring, too.”
The league will use 12 of Premier’s 22 fields for its training camp, allowing coaches to look at other teams and players on a routine basis and hold scrimmages in one location.
“It’s going to be great exposure for our community,” says Antonio Saviano, director of sports for the Premier Sports Campus. “This is going to take us to the next level having Major League Football here. We already have U.S. soccer, which is great, but this is going to put us on another level.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].