Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

New Football League Says It Has Funds to Launch | Tourism Interests Say Safeguards Mean Incentive Money Not a Gamble

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

New Football League Says It Has Funds to Launch | Tourism Interests Say Safeguards Mean Incentive Money Not a Gamble

Article excerpt

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

MANATEE COUNTY -- A company that has sold area business leaders on its plan to launch a 10-city professional football league says it has acquired the money it needs to get it off the ground from private investors. That would mark a significant upturn for Major League Football Inc., which as of Jan. 31, had $5,000 in cash, a working deficit of $1 million and thousands in unpaid income taxes to the state of Delaware.

Earlier this year, Manatee County commissioners awarded Major League Football Inc. a $147,000 economic incentive package to relocate to Southwest Florida and create 49 jobs at its corporate headquarters within the next five years. Shortly after, company officials announced they will move their business here, and hold a spring training camp for 1,000 players and coaches next year at Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch.

Bradenton and Sarasota sports commissions have since committed a combined $35,000 in tourist tax dollars to offset Major League Football's rent in its inaugural season -- the company will

chip in $10,000 for the use of Premier Sports Campus next spring from Feb. 15 to March 20.

"That's all part of the plan ... if you did the snapshot right now, it's significantly different," league executive vice president Frank Murtha said Monday of the company's fiscal health. "We wouldn't have gone this far (if not). We're not just winging it."

At a press conference held earlier this month, a finance officer with MLF told the Herald-Tribune that it would take roughly $100 million to cover the costs of a league that aims to fill a gap in professional football by playing in the spring and summer seasons. Reached Monday, Murtha discredited that number, but declined to provide a more realistic figure. Before MLF announced that it would move to Lakewood Ranch, the company filed paperwork that states that it has raised $470,000 out of a planned $3 million.

While area sports directors say there are economic reasons they want Major League Football to succeed, they also maintain they have nothing to lose by investing in MLF. Manatee County will audit the jobs MLF has created at the end of 2016 before paying out incentives, Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. president Sharon Hillstrom said. The sports commission grants would be awarded after MLF makes good on plans to generate at least $5 million in economic impact during spring training next year.

"We're not providing any money up front," said Nicole Rissler, Visit Sarasota County's director of sports. "Ours is all performance- based reimbursement. At the end of the day, we're not really taking a risk."

Finding a home

Major League Football Inc. was formed in 2009 by a small group of former NFL personnel, and operated quietly until July 2014, when the company was purchased by a consulting firm.

Last December, MLF emerged as a publicly traded company with a plan to launch a spring football league in cities without National Football League or Major League Baseball teams. The company has since announced "tentative" teams in Orlando; Little Rock, Arkansas; Norfolk, Virginia; Birmingham, Alabama; Oklahoma City and Eugene, Oregon. The company has several former NFL players behind it, including Ivory Sully, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams, and Wesley Chandler, the former Gator who played for the New Orleans Saints, the San Diego Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers. …

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