By Steve Ruman
The speculation surrounding an FXFL team coming to the Mahoning Valley proved to be accurate.
The FXFL (Fall Experimental Football League) on Wednesday introduced the Mahoning Valley Brawlers as its newest franchise. The Brawlers, who will play their home games at Eastwood Field, will be part of the four-team professional league which officials describe as “a developmental league for the NFL.”
The Brawlers franchise was introduced at a news conference Wednesday morning at the Eastwood Mall. The team will be operated by HWS Baseball, the current owner of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
“We are pleased to announce the addition of the Mahoning Valley as part of our 2015 membership and look forward to our partnership with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers,” said FXFL League Commissioner Brian Woods. “This gives us an exciting new market with an attractive fan base.”
The FXFL will also include teams in Brooklyn, N.Y., Hudson Valley, N.Y., and Florida. Like the Brawlers, the teams in Brooklyn and Hudson Valley will be operated by minor league baseball organizations which play in the New York-Penn League. The Florida-based team operates as an independent franchise. It plays all of its games on the road and is run by the league.
In its inaugural season a year ago, the FXFL included franchises in Brooklyn, Boston, Omaha and Florida.
“The FXFL was created in 2014 to be a new professional football league but to serve in a different forum in that its a developmental platform for future NFL talent,” Woods said. “The FXFL is a minor league model but it’s a major league product. Outside of the NFL right now, it’s the next best thing.”
Woods noted that last year, approximately 98 percent of the league’s players came directly from NFL camps. Many of those were late draft picks or undrafted rookie free agents who began the summer on NFL rosters but were cut as teams reduced their rosters.
At least 27 of the FXFL’s roughly 126 players in 2014 went on to re-sign with NFL teams at one point during or after the season.
“We’re not looking for players whose shelf lives have expired,” Woods said. “We’re looking to give additional opportunities to players who need to continue to hone their skills, possibly with the hopes of moving back to the NFL”
The standard FXFL contract paid $1,000 per game. Franchises had the option to move any player from team to team as they saw fit. The contracts allowed for players to leave for the NFL at any time.
“We don’t try to compete with the NFL, in fact we have a very good working relationship with many of their top guys,” Woods said. “We view ourselves as sort of a feeder system.
“Because of injuries and other circumstances, NFL rosters change throughout the course of a season. What we do benefits the NFL in that our league showcases players and it keeps them ready should their services be needed.”
The Brawlers will play a five-game schedule, including three home games (Oct. 3, Oct. 15, Nov. 4). A pair of away games will be played on Friday nights.
“We understand the passion of high school football in this area, so we stayed away from scheduling home games on Fridays,” said HWS Baseball Vice-President Jordan Taylor.
“We also have a clear understanding of how passionate the people of the Mahoning Valley are when it comes to football at every level. We’re excited to bring a high-quality brand of football to this fan base.”
While HWS Baseball will run the Brawlers in terms of ticket sales, promotions and stadium operations, the league will assign the team its players and coaches.
Woods said that league rosters would be released closer to the start of the season as the NFL squads adjust their rosters. He expects the league to announce the Brawlers’ head coach by mid-August.
The Brawlers nickname and logo were adapted from the Boston franchise of a year ago. The logo depicts an old-style, bare-knuckles fighter.
“The nickname is a great fit because the number of boxing champions in the Mahoning Valley per capita is stronger than any other place in the United States, and it ties in perfectly with the community,” Woods said.
Brawlers tickets are currently on sale at the Eastwood Field ticket office.