Some People Have Too Much Money

Published: May 30th, 2007
By weblog

A group of gentlemen who in the time it took you to read up to this point have earned more money than you will all year, are putting together a football league to compete with the NFL. Among the charter members of this upstart league are Bill Hambrecht (investment banker), Tim Armstrong (Google), and Mark Cuban (HDNet, Dallas Mavericks, the twitch in Donald Trump's left eye.) The league is to be called the United Football League, abbreviated of course to UFL. Looks a lot like UFC, doesn't it?

The UFL plans to start preseason games in 2008, meaning that it will go head-to-head with the NFL, a league with almost 90 years of established history and allegiances and currently saturates the airwaves with constant coverage from July to April. The competing leagues that you've heard of, such as the World League and the USFL, played spring and summer schedules so the major markets would show their games. The USFL lasted three years while the World League petered out barely into its second. And those were before the NFL was as powerful as it is now. A more recent example of a failed spring league is the XFL, which combined the redneck appeal of professional wrestling with the familiarity of American football. It folded after its only season in 2001. If the XFL couldn't keep its male, wrestling-loving audience by following cheerleaders into their showers in the spring, what chance does the UFL have without those things and being broadcast at the same time as NFL games?

The most successful leagues to compete with the NFL, the All-American Football Conference and the American Football League, both merged with the NFL, which may be the ultimate goal of the new UFL. That's what I think, and so does David Carter, the executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute (sounds made up to me.)

Success for the UFL may not mean long-term existence as a league, but a place for some of its teams as expansion members in the NFL, Carter said.

The NFL wants a team in Los Angeles, but really likes its current 32 team set-up and the symmetry it allows. You also have to think that NFL owners, with the current revenue sharing plan in place, aren't eager to introduce teams into the league from cities that will only act as liabilities to its more powerful members. You think Jerry Jones or Robert Kraft are pressing for teams in Las Vegas or Orlando, cities with more tourists than residents? Most likely, the league will allow one of its own teams like the Jaguars or the Vikings to move to Los Angeles from their current city where they are getting poorer every year. This would eliminate the one bargaining chip the UFL might possibly have, if it even survives long enough to have this conversation. Which it won't.

The only reason this is even news is because of the meager celebrity status of Mark Cuban. An upstart league that hasn't gotten any press, the All-American Football League, tried to get off the ground this spring but had to delay their debut for a year. The AAFL will have a professional pay structure, will require its players to be college graduates, and will be closely tied to universities around the country (the University of Tennessee, the University of Florida and Florida State have already reached agreements with the AAFL.) That to me sounds more interesting than the UFL, which has all the charm of a 1999 dot com that was only conceived so it could be bought. Seriously, isn't the af2 always looking for investors with more money than sense? Seems like that would be easier.

The enduring legacy of the XFL will be their showering cheerleaders.  And may God bless each of them for their contributions.