There aren’t a lot of options for free agents who want another crack at the NFL, beyond waiting for a phone call that may never come.
HUB Football aims to offer another path. The emerging football development property, which hosted its first invite-only camp of the year last week, looks to become the go-to audition for free agents and former college stars looking to make a roster spot. HUB isn’t paying its participants in cash but in exposure, with numerous pro scouts watching. Eventually, it plans to provide sports content, as well.
HUB founder and sports agent Don Yee says that NFL football is the “undisputed king” of television, and believes this upstart property is yet another way to potentially serve the league’s audience. Yee, who represents high-profile clients including Tom Brady, sees this as the perfect time to strike, as the nation embraces an evolving college sports landscape and disrupter leagues.
“If we can create a product that attracts the very best rising talent and helps prepare them for the NFL level, anybody interacting with the product will be seeing the next generation of stars,” Yee said of the Southern California-based entity. “That investment can be very successfully leveraged.”
Yee’s first venture into this arena was the Pacific Pro League, a four-team single entity for college-age players that never quite materialized. He has since turned his focus to this contact-free scouting initiative, which allows college athletes to retain eligibility. HUB stakeholders are in the process of raising “several million” in capital, according to a source, with the league talking to potential sponsors and working on plans to host NFL-style games as the pandemic subsides.
Backed by NFL teams and agents, HUB looks to create a niche in a sport that isn’t always receptive to new models. But it has inspiration from other development leagues, such as the NBA’s G-League Ignite, an alternative to college basketball that plays players as much as $500,000. Overtime Elite is another upstart basketball league that pays high-school-age players six-figure salaries. While HUB isn’t offering paid contracts, at least not now, it aims to be both an alternative and eventually a supplement for college players preparing for the NFL draft.
“It’s a recognition that there needs to be highly curated innovation in the development space for your very best in any particular sport,” Yee said of next-gen sports properties.
The XFL is scheduled to resume play next February and plans to collaborate with the NFL on select initiatives. But new ownership has clarified that it won’t be a direct development league for the NFL. The Fox Sports-owned United States Football League (USFL) is also making a comeback starting in April.
XFL and USFL scouts could potentially join CFL and other reps from pro leagues at HUB camps and games. Sports attorney Brian Michael Cooper sees the possibilities for a go-to developmental football league, with more players and families becoming open to alternatives beyond the NCAA route.
“The dynamics have certainly changed,” Cooper said. “There’s potential for a league to be built similarly to Overtime Elite… But with football there’s distinctions there [that differ from basketball]. It’s just got to be done carefully.”
As the pandemic shifts how college athletic conferences and pro leagues conduct combines, pro days and evaluation opportunities, HUB looks to provide a series of camps and games where scouts and decision makers can evaluate players under optimized conditions. For instance, HUB recently inked a deal with TVU Networks that allows teams to scout remotely.
Yee, who has long been outspoken about college athletes receiving compensation, reiterates that he isn’t trying to dethrone the NCAA but merely offer another option. HUB strives to provide a new avenue, not only for existing NFL free agents, but also for top NFL prospects who are weighing how much to expose themselves before the draft.
“We want overtime to create a viable alternative choice for the very best players to learn the NFL game and simply provide them with a development path if they want to have it,” Yee added.