LAKEWOOD RANCH -- With a television deal recently secured, Major League Football Inc. is turning its focus to securing its most important commodity: players.
The three-day process begins Tuesday, when each of the league's eight teams will select a franchise player.
Each team will select 40 territorial draft picks on Wednesday and an additional 39 players on the final day.
The 80-player, preseason rosters will be cut to 46 and a seven-player practice squad for the regular season.
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Frank Murtha, senior executive vice president of MLFB, said the organization has evaluated more than 1,100 players through workouts and videos. Each prospect paid $250 to try out in person, and videos of other players were sent in by their agents.
"The NFL cuts more than 1,100 players each year," Murtha said. "We are going into training camp with about 800 players, and those guys were all good enough at least to be considered for an NFL team."
The territorial draft will not be affected if the league has not named all its franchises by Wednesday, according to Nick Athan, MLFB Vice President of Media Relations.
"Internally, we know which cities are on board and have territorial contingencies in place should that change prior to the start of the MLFB draft next week," Athan said.
The draft comes on the heels of MLFB signing a deal with the new American Sports Network to televise regular season and postseason games. The league is scheduled to begin play in the first week of April, but there will be plenty of time for local fans to evaluate the players.
All the teams will have preseason training at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch from Feb. 16 through March 17. The preseason will include controlled scrimmages between some of the teams.
Each team's "franchise" player will be paid above the league salary limit and work throughout the year in helping to promote his team.
Players selected in the territorial draft will be those who should be familiar to the fans of their franchise. For example, the Florida franchise that will play in Orlando, will be looking for those who played college ball in Florida or are from Florida.
The league is striving to
be fan friendly and hopes to use technology in the stadiums that would allow fans to look inside the huddle and interact with players.
"We have strived to give fans of Major League Football the avenue to watch each of our games this season and in 2017," MLFB executive Rick Smith said. "ASN, with their affiliations and content distribution capabilities within Sinclair Broadcasting Group and numerous cable and multiple satellite providers, will provide fans the ability to enjoy football broadcasts in the spring in the same manner as they do in the fall and winter months viewing professional football throughout the country."
The league has been working to meet its April launch date, and the television contract was crucial, according to Murtha.
ASN, formed last year, is a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting, which is a publicly traded broadcasting company that owns and operates about 130 stations around the country.
ASN's willingness to promote the league was crucial in MLFB signing with Sinclair Broadcasting, Murtha said.
"We had multiple suitors and interest from more recognizable companies, not that Sinclair isn't big, but Sinclair wanted to be partners with us and are going to promote the league," Murtha said. "They have their own stations in some of the cities where we are going to be playing so they can help promote our games there. They've been in the TV business a long time. ASN will be doing promotional spots for our league even during its college basketball broadcasts."
MLFB signed a two-year contract with ASN that includes 10 regular-season and two rounds of postseason games. Murtha said the deal includes televising games regionally and one national game of the week. The league plans to play games on Saturday and Sunday, and perhaps one game during the week.
"ASN is devoted solely to sports and will bring in other carriers and networks. We expect them to put games on their channels in cities where Sinclair or ASN does not have their channels," Murtha said.
ASN produces broadcasts of sporting events that include multiple NCAA Division I sports, minor league baseball and Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake City franchise. It televised the inaugural Arizona Bowl in December.