WELCOME TO THE MAJOR LEAGUE FOOTY - 2017-'18 WINTER LEAGUE SEASON!
HIT SHOW: HOW ESPN CREATED A GENERATION OF FOOTY FANS
By RICH LIBERO
Those of us who watched Australian Rules Football on ESPN in the early 1980’s will always associate Men at Work’s “Down Under” with the show’s opening segment.
The kettle drum signaled the start of an exotic form of athletic chaos. The drums and cymbal crashes accompanied massive collisions into goal posts, shoulder-on-shoulder hits and marks where players jumped, planted their cleats into the back of an opponent and seemingly levitated in mid-air to make a mark.
Yes, back in 1982, the cable bill came with ESPN and we were happy. The thrill of watching a sport from a country most of us would never visit or understood added to the 24-hour sports network’s unique vision and value.
In a 1999 interview, veteran anchor Bob Ley reflected on ESPN’s 20th anniversary when he said: “The biggest cult, by far, surrounded Australian Rules Football.”
From 1980-86 ESPN broadcast a mix of live and tape-delayed VFL (Victorian Football League) matches. The game received reasonable time slots and gained popularity among the cable network’s growing audience.
ESPN essentially used the Australian feed, lending the complete flavor of watching this unique and entertaining sport as it was produced and packaged in a foreign land. The speed of the play-by-play combined with Aussie accents, colloquialisms and terminology required an attentive ear. Still, Americans gravitated to the spectacle.
“It was like a train wreck in sports,” former SportsCenter anchor George Grande said in ’99. “The people could care less about the rules and how you score, they just wanted to see people kill each other.”
Consider the fare on offer to the American sports fan at the time – the slow, low-contact pace of baseball or the intermittent violence of the NFL between huddles and commercials, low-impact basketball and ice hockey, which featured non-stop action, hits and fighting, but served as a mostly regional sport.
Suddenly, a bunch of massive, muscle-bound Aussies appeared with accents somewhere between an American country twang and England proper clad in weeny-bikini-sized shorts and wife-beater jerseys.
How much was a goal worth? What the heck was a behind? How do the announcers do the score line math so quickly? Who cares!?
Those things aside, fans gravitated to the non-stop action, power, pace, and massive, pre-historic-sized pom-poms undulating behind the goal posts. Oh yes, and of course, the two finger-pointing of some clinical looking dude with a hat and white lab coat whenever a goal was scored.
Back in those days, however, Aussie footy appeared under the banner of the VFL – the Victorian Football League. The sport dominated the Australian province of Victoria with the bulk of the league’s teams sharing grounds and orbiting in and around Melbourne.
In a way, the exposure in America cause the VFL to think bigger and by 1990, the league morphed into the Australian Football League. The league saw teams such as Footscray Bulldogs (now Western) re-brand and others – the Fitzroy Lions and Brisbane Bears — merge.
As the AFL grew, so did the league’s footprint into Adelaide, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Perth and Western Sydney.
But just as the AFL gained a polished status on par with some of the world’s top sports leagues, it lost its place in ESPN’s ever-crowding lineup. The reliable staple made way for more traditional American sports such as the NBA.
Of course, the massive growth of domestic and international soccer also helped consume the minds of internationally-minded American fans.
Today, hardcore footy fans soldier on, working hard to locate matches on a premium channel such as Fox Soccer Plus or FS1. The games are usually live and not in the best time slots, but they still manage to pull in ratings in the 30,000-50,000 range – a testament of devotion from ex-pat Aussies and absorbed Americans.
Major League Footy offers an opportunity for fans to discover an uniquely American-sized version of the game they learned to love on ESPN. And given the global information world we live, there’s a good chance, this could be playing to interested audiences back in Australia.
Wouldn’t that be a turnabout?
This article appears in the Spring 2018 edition of Major League Footy: The League
SHERRIN SIGNS ON AS OFFICIAL MATCH BALL OF MLF
Major League Footy, the independent league of Australian Rules Football in the United States, has announced an agreement making Sherrin the Official Match Football of Major League Footy.
As part of the arrangement, Sherrin will also supply Major League Footy with a wide variety of leather and synthetic balls, as well as a range of sizes for the league’s Youth and Development Programs.
Those programs kick off Friday, 30 March as the league’s St. Petersburg Swans club launch their first Footy Camp on the season, with 50 children ages 5-12 receiving their introduction to footy.
ST. PETE CLINCHES TOP OF WINTER TABLE
By virtue of a three-goal win Saturday at sun-soaked Crescent Lake Common, the St. Petersburg Swans have clinched as 2017-’18 Major League Footy Winter Minor Premiers, running out 66-48 winners over Pittsburgh.
After a slow start saw the sides struggle to convert opportunities, the offenses came alive in the second frame, despite the hot conditions.
The result eliminates the Orlando Kangas from contention to overtake to the top of the ladder.
Now at the top of the table with a 4-1 record and a 139.6 percentage, St. Petersburg will finish the 2017-18 Major League Footy winter campaign with next Saturday’s match, looking to repeat with a Premiership flag after last season’s 3-1 mark and subsequent victory over the Suncoast Suns in the Winter Championship.
The St. Petersburg Swans host the Orlando Kangas, Saturday, March 24 at Crescent Lake Common in St. Petersburg. Ball up is 11 AM.
MLF SECURES LOCAL OPERATOR IN DALLAS
The Dallas Outlaws are slated to begin training later this spring, with an eye on joining the MLF Western Conference for the 2019 season.
New Major League Footy clubs have begun training in the Greater Los Angeles area, while the Jacksonville Demons are set for their first kick Wednesday, March 14.
As the MLF Winter Season heads toward the Four ‘N Twenty Bowl – March 31 – the league has announced a 40-game slate of Eastern Conference head-to-head matches for the 2018 Premiership season. The Western Conference schedule will be announced later this month.
KLINGER IN ADVISORY ROLE TO MAJOR LEAGUE FOOTY
Major League Footy is pleased to announce the addition of Darrin Klinger as Special Advisor to the League.
Through business, politics and sports, Darrin has established key relationships between the U.S. and Australia.
Darrin travels to Australia regularly and works with a variety of sports interests including the Australian Rules Football Coaches Association, Melbourne Storm (NRL), Netball Victoria, and a number of Australian Football League teams, coaches, players and executives.
He is the founder of Australia – USA (AUSA) Connect, a network of thought leaders bridging opportunities through an exchange of ideas and business opportunities between two like-minded cultures. He is a member of the Australia America Association, AFL’s Geelong Cats Football Club. A massive tennis fan, Darrin has attended five straight Australian Opens.
JACKSONVILLE, MIAMI DEBUT IN MLF FOR ’18
The 2018 Major League Footy Eastern Conference schedule is packed with 40 head-to-head matches, highlighted by home and away series between the upstart Miami Saints and both the St. Petersburg Swans and Clearwater Kangas.
The start-up Jacksonville Demons will also take their bow July 28, when they host St. Petersburg at 9A/Baymeadows Park in Jacksonville.
Major League Footy is an independent league of 9-a-side Australian Football played on an American football (gridiron) field.
Competition is based on head-to-head play, rather than tournament-style events.
The Major League Footy ladder is based on 4-points for each win, with playoff finals featuring the top four clubs based on won-loss and percentages.
Other highlights include two ‘State of Origin’-style matches featuring the Pittsburgh Blackbirds and Greater Northern Philadelphia, both including Pennsylvania-born players representing the Keystone State.
The full Major League Footy Western Conference schedule will be released March 26, highlighted by a St. Petersburg Swans visit to Los Angeles, Saturday, August 25th.
The Los Angeles side will be stocked with a player list of NFL-level athletes new to footy at the 2018 MLF Los Angeles Player Combine, June 3 at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles.
MLF SCHEDULE REVEAL COMING MONDAY
A full season of great head-to-head footy action looks to be highlighted by a full slate of matches for the Miami Saints, as the squad preps for its busiest season yet.
Other highlights loom as the St. Petersburg Swans travel cross-continent to take on the upstart Los Angeles MLF side the weekend of July 28; and the Jacksonville Demons joining competitive play August 11, with an appearance in the 2018 Florida Cup at Ft. Lauderdale following up in September.
MLF DEPLOYS AUSBALL FOR DEVELOPMENT
Major League Footy has announced an initiative to leverage the Ausball format of non-contact, co-ed footy in an effort to enhance the recruitment and growth of Australian Rules Football in MLF youth, scholastic and collegiate programs.
Ausball provides a fun, standardized environment for participants of all ages to discover our great sport, while developing footy skills and teamwork. These skills are essential, should players choose to continue to play at a higher level.
Under the guidance of Ausball orignators Denis Ryan and Matt Bishop, Ausball has long been a part of club footy in the United States, and Major League Footy is very proud to make Ausball part of our development, education and youth programs going forward.
The Ausball Academy website will re-launch soon, while MLF clubs in St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Los Angeles will immediately make the Ausball format part of their own clubs’ development efforts.
All MLF clubs will operate a league-wide Ausball program under standardize rules going forward.
Come have a kick!
Major League Footy is pleased to announce that Four ‘N Twenty Bowl 2018 is coming to American Integrity Stadium at Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, Saturday, March 31. Game time is TBA.
The Inaugural Four ‘N Twenty Bowl at American Integrity Stadium will feature MLF clubs battling for the Winter Season Premiership at the fabulous purpose-built soccer facility at Premier Sports Campus.
Four ‘N Twenty USA / USAAPI support the St. Petersburg Swans of Major League Footy, and the Swans offer hot Four ‘N Twenty pies at all 2018 Twilight Series home games.
American Integrity Insurance is one of Florida’s most respected and fastest-growing insurers, and has partnered with Premier Sports Campus on naming rights for the stadium at PSC.
Located in Lakewood Ranch (Sarasota/Bradenton), Premier Sports Campus is one of the nation’s leading multi-event sports facilities, and has hosted soccer, rugby and Australian Rules Football matches and tournaments, plus much more.
The 2018 Four ‘N Twenty Bowl will be broadcast live – broadcast details will be announced as soon as available.
FOOTY 9s: FAST, FORWARD FOOTY
Think the Quarterback style forward pass will never work in ‘footy’? Well, it’s not an entirely new idea.
In fact, Footy 9s is a refined evolution of the World War II era sport ‘Austus’…and an idea whose time has come.
There were certainly grand plans afoot after a successful run of Austus matches in Victoria during the War, when Ern Cowley of the Melbourne Sporting Globe and his friend Bill Jost devised a new sport of compromise rules that would see American athletes stationed in the South Pacific take on Aussie Rules clubs on a more even playing field.
How to do that? The forward pass.
By incorporating the forward pass into what otherwise was fully Australian football, the American competitors immediately became competitive in an otherwise completely new sport.
In fact, the prodigious passing of the Yanks proved more than competitive – the American sides actually took the ‘Best of Five’ series of matches, 3 games to 2, and sparked talked of an international ‘World Championship of Football’ in the US after the War.
Sadly, the conclusion of the American’s service Down Under instead saw the end of the Austus Era, as players returned to their respective football codes.
It’s been a 75-year wait, but Footy 9s stands as the evolution of this remarkable and ‘Invented in Australia’ fusion of the best of both codes.
With refined rules and game-play best suited for American skills and sporting tastes, Footy 9s has taken a great old-school solution to the ‘Bringing Footy to America’ quandary that has seen the traditional 18-a-side on a cricket oval find slow going in the States.