By Marcelo Metzelar, Contributing Writer
The National Gridiron League is set to begin their inaugural season this spring in twelve cities scattered across the U.S. Their slogan, “Twelve teams, One League” is their motto pounding their chest at their single-entity model.
The League is led by Joe E. McClendon III, who played his college ball for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. He is assisted by COO Larry Barlow, Board Member and former Arena Football Player Keon Perry and Executive Assistant Daria Ray.
Ray is a former minor league football owner and has been around the game for decades. She has worked with several arena/indoor football teams in the past, including the Indiana Firebirds, and Ft. Wayne Fusion. As a former owner, she has needed to wear several hats. Those skills will come in handy as she will be serving as a liaison between the team presidents and the league. “We are a small staff, so when games are nearby, I’ll be helping with game day operations and help makes things look [and be] professional. [I’ll be] that buffer for the league commissioner.”
Cities and teams were selected based on local economy, business leadership and stadium availability and willingness. NGL believes the single-entity model gives them the opportunity for long term investment into a city. According to Ray, “We want a community presence and community commitment.” Programs to fight childhood obesity, and programs that allow kids to play indoor football are just a few community service programs that league is planning to implement.
Player safety is also going to be stressed. There will be a clearly defined concussion protocol prior to training camp each team must follow. Each team has already partnered with local medical teams to ensure athletes get the care they need. Turf Nation has been entrusted with installing the turf and wall padding for all twelve teams. Turf Nation was selected because of their history creating safe, high quality surfaces and have even manufactured the turf for the 2017 and 2018 Super Bowls.
There will be some mixing of rules between traditional arena leagues and indoor leagues. “There will be no Jack-in-the-Box,” according to Ray, “We are making a few tweaks to fit our style.” One rule – the rouge rule, used in Canadian and some of the other indoor leagues will also be in effect. “We want to make special teams a factor and not just a play that gives people a chance to check their phone.” The “Rouge Rule” allows for the kickoff team to earn a point if the receiving team cannot successfully advance the ball out of the end zone. “We want fans to get as much bang for their buck,” Ray said.
NGL will begin play in late March. Each team will play 16 games, 8 home and 8 away. Games will be played Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoons. Four teams from each conference will make the playoffs with the championship game held in Biloxi, MS. A press conference will be held soon to announce broadcasting partnerships.
“I want people to know it’s going to be exciting, I’m excited about what the league stands for, and I can’t wait to see what happens in Biloxi.” Ray said. Ray also hosts a call-in talk show, The National Gridiron League Show, live on Wednesdays at 8pm Eastern time.
Starting a new league is an ambitious task. More often than not, leagues will fail. However, with twelve teams under one ownership, lease agreements in place, medical partnerships set, and community programs in the works, season ticket prices set, coaches hired, and a business leadership that is experienced, the future looks bright for the new league.
The expected announcement about the Orlando Predators is formally made, kicking off the start of this week's all-new AFT Buzz.
Ten-year indoor football veteran Kimo Naehu has found a new team in the Tuscon Sugar Skulls. The Hawaiian shares with the show about how he has physically and mentally kept pushing forward through his career, what it means to win a championship so late in a career and how he perceives the kicking game going in the future of indoor football.
Arena Football Nation's Michael Summers also joins the show. The host of Action VR Network's first indoor football show talks about changes in the offseason for the three big leagues and more.
The results of the first Facebook Question of the Week regarding who AFT Buzz fans would rather have coaching the San Diego Strike Force is in. Host Brice Burge shares who you chose and the difficulties in store for Strikers Coach Burt Grossman.
AFT Buzz is available through 920 WON: The Apple Fridays at 7 p.m., Action VR Sports on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Western Reserve Radio on Wednesdays at 6 p.m; all Eastern. Episodes are also available after air on their mixcloud channel.
As most fans of the NAL, I was excited to see the notifications start popping up again about the Orlando Predators returning to the sport. The Preds have a diehard fan base and a great history, two things that are necessary for success with all the competing leagues.
Things seem to be going just fine as well. There are official social media pages and phone numbers, even tryouts scheduled. Everything seems to be on track.
Except, you know, the team actually being announced.
No official word has been made regarding this franchise. No league statements. No local media coverage. Posts and rumors place the team in the NAL and there's a nice logo-sized hole on the front page of the league website. But the best there is on official communication is the occasional deflection from an owner or league officials' personal social media profile saying to be patient and relax.
Well for anyone who has ever had the displeasure of telling someone to calm down, doing it on Facebook isn't much better. Fans are complaining about not being able to get tickets yet and for a while a major rumor circulated about how the team would actually be called a different Arnold Schwarzenegger movie title. Most recently, somebody created a fake league page to talk about how the Predators were going back to the AFL because things were taking so long.
While reactions were mixed, it was some collegiate-level satire that might have been too good. One of the comments actually said "why not take it as fact since nothing better has come out?"
If you are working with the Predators or the NAL, that statement needs to be taken seriously. On its own the comment can be disregarded, but it cannot as an identifier of a trend.
Obviously creating an expansion franchise is difficult and I don't want to discredit the work of people working to bring back indoor football to Orlando. But there are still concerns with Amway Center hosting the team again, meaning it would be difficult to get the team any home games and impact the league schedule. The intellectual protection to get that name and logo wasn't filed until already late in the offseason. No staff of any kind have been officially announced.
Let's also circle back to the league schedule for a little bit. There are still many concerns about Lehigh Valley returning after their winless season as their search for a new owner continues. That and continued discussion about the return of the Nashville Kats are leaving fans to wonder the amount of teams in the league for 2019.
Even when the Orlando Predators do announce their franchise officially, there are many concerns about how it will be done. The team is already the worst kept secret in football and makes the social media mishaps regarding the NY Streets or last season with the Massachusetts Pirates look professional. And if the press conference is anything like the way it was in New York, a lot of people will doubt the seriousness the league will take on the issue.
If you look back at the last three paragraphs, you see a negative trend for three separate issues: the current situation in Orlando is faceless and unaccounted for, the struggles the NAL face this offseason impacting other franchises and the concerns of the NAL to establish and maintain their branding and press relations.
Ultimately, all these issues can be dealt with by having the team take the field and do well. There are a couple months before that first snap, but right now uncertainty and rumormongering leads the way for the Orlando Predators. The NAL needs to step up and wow the indoor football community and the Orlando market when they officially come back.
Western Reserve Radio out of Youngstown, Ohio is the latest outlet to carry AFT Buzz presented by Arena Football Talk. The first episode will air Wednesday, January 15 at 6 pm Eastern.
"We at Western Reserve Radio are excited to add AFT Buzz to our weekly lineup," said Jim Craven of Western Reserve Radio. "[We] look forward to very entertaining insight from around the country into the fast-paced game of arena football."
The first episode will air Wednesday, January 15 at 6 pm Eastern. Episodes will stay in that time slot every week.
A sports-centered station, Western Reserve Radio covers local teams and the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms. They also pair with SB Nation radio and the Ohio High School Athletic Association Radio network.
Western Reserve Radio joins 920 WON: The Apple and Action VR Network in carrying AFT Buzz. The show is also available as a podcast on Mixlr.
"This is another step to reaching new fans," said AFT Buzz Host Brice Burge. "We continue to make amazing progress in providing quality content about indoor football to so many new fans and partnering up with Western Reserve Radio is a win for all of us."
Fans can visit Western Reserve Radio's website by clicking HERE.
An exciting episode of AFT Buzz debuts this Friday, as Texas Revolution CEO Tommy Benizio and High Country Grizzlies Assistant Coach Mo Gore joins the show.
Major changes are coming to Texas as they have partnered with the Dallas Cowboys. While the main point is using The Star as their new venue, the deal means a number of other advantages to promote the Revs and football in the area. Benizio explains these benefits and more before the start of their season.
High Country is bouncing back after getting a new head coach for the 2019 campaign. Talking about the team is Gore, a coach retained on the staff. Gore is local to the area, works in the front office as well and shares his knowledge of High Country and the AAL with listeners.
Host Brice Burge dives into the announcement of an announcement regarding the new Atlantic City AFL franchise and talks about indoor football coaches in the NFL.
AFT Buzz is available through 920 WON: The Apple, Action VR Sports and Western Reserve Radio. Episodes are also available after air on their mixcloud channel.
By Marcelo Metzelar