Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Coming Soon: United Football League [J. Mark English]

As networks reveal their fall lineups of new television show, one in particular might sound like a repeat of an already existing show. NBC's "Friday Night Lights" is about to go head to head against the reality version of "Friday Night Lights".

Look out National Football League, you have a new challenger.

Greg Garber of ESPN explains:

The history books say that six different outdoor leagues have come into
existence during the NFL's long and steady climb to the top of professional sports. The first two attempts appreciably changed the composition of the NFL. Three teams from the All-America Football Conference were absorbed by the NFL in 1950; and 20 years later, the American Football League merged 10 of its teams with the NFL...

....The underlying premise of the UFL's launch is to meet untapped demand.

League executives cite a 2007 ESPN/The Sports Network poll indicating that half of those who describe themselves as avid NFL fans have never attended a game. Scaling UFL tickets at an average
price of $20, the reasoning goes, should make the new league's games an easy destination and turn the UFL into an attractive alternative in these difficult economic times..

...Four teams -- New York/Hartford, Orlando, Las Vegas/Los Angeles and San Francisco/Sacramento -- will play a six-week season in the UFL, concluding with a championship game on Thanksgiving weekend. Games will be played on Thursday and Friday nights to avoid conflicts with the NFL and, for the most part, college. Rosters will be stocked, with regional priority, from the pool of players released by NFL teams in training camp. San Francisco will have first rights to players cut from the AFC and NFC West rosters, while New York owns the AFC and NFC East, with Orlando getting AFC and NFC South players and Las Vegas the AFC and NFC North players.

There is a proposed salary cap of $12-20 million for each team's players and a $3 million cap for staff salaries, including the four head coaches: Dennis Green, Jim Fassel, Jim Haslett and Ted Cottrell. With the exception of Cottrell, all have been NFL head coaches but failed to land a current lead NFL job despite a recent spate of openings.

Going forward, the plan is to have a second-year draft and slowly expand the league to between 10 and 12 teams, as well as increase the length of the season. The UFL has positioned its franchises mostly in places without NFL competition. Three teams will play home games in two markets to see where the interest lies. League officials point to Los Angeles as a sprawling, underserved market; but the recent suspension of operations by the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League suggests the City of Angels might still be immune to the pleasures of pro football.

The UFL was founded by Wall Street investor Bill Hambrecht, once a minority partner in the USFL's Oakland franchise, and former Google executive Tim Armstrong. Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is also part of the roster of investors that paid a collective $30 million for the four franchises.

My thoughts -

Given the economic situation, this league might actually have staying power.

During the short lived XFL season, actually became watchable once it focused more on football at the end of its season. It started to look like a credible minor league, that help improve players that were almost NFL ready. Players like Tommy Maddox, and Rod "He Hates Me" Smart turned in some decent seasons in the NFL after playing in the XFL.

The UFL should not try to compete with the NFL, but instead act as a safety net for players on the edge of being pros. The UFL will have numerous players to recruit. The Arena Football League cancelled last season, making many of their players available, as well as players from NFL Europe, and the Canadian Football League.

Third stringers in the NFL, might be tempted to jump to the UFL to get more playing time and more exposure.

Even troubled players such as Michael Vick might consider coming to the UFL.

Clark Judge of CBS Sports mulled this option a few weeks ago:

Here's a prediction: Michael Vick plays this season, but he doesn't play in the NFL. He plays in the UFL.

That's the fledgling league that hired Jim Fassel, Jim Haslett, Ted Cottrell and Dennis Green as head coaches and is expected to open in October.

It's also a league starved for attention, and in Michael Vick, it would have it. Not only would he attract thousands of fans, either to support him or protest his return, but he would deliver a buzz startups crave. Moreover, he would bring in a media army, and if you don't believe it, you didn't see reporters camped outside federal prison in Fort Leavenworth on Wednesday.

Getting back to the economics of our country. The Negro Leagues greatest financial success came in the 1930's during the great depression. Most people wanted to see baseball, but could not afford the MLB prices. Instead they paid for the far cheaper seats of the Negro League, and were highly entertained. Perhaps, the UFL might benefit from the same sort of economic success in a down market. Do you really think Detroit Lion fans want to spend over $100 (which after parking, and concession comes out to be much more then that) to see their awful football team? And what if the NFL starts blacking out more games because sell outs are harder to come by? The UFL is ready to pounce on this probability.

Friday nights may never be the same.

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