They quietly started another season this past week with four teams…Sacramento, Virginia, Omaha and Las Vegas...limping along on financial fumes, albeit with some solid local following, good coaches and some potential great stories of their players. The United Football League is still trying, even if few realize or even care. What happened and could it have worked?
The league started four years ago hoping that they could ride the coattails of a potential NFL lockout and building in some secondary markets to reach success. They brought in name coaches, looked to find ways to engage fans, tried to find brands who were passionate about football but couldn’t crack the NFL roster, and hoped a match would light. maybe the NFL would see some seeds of an idea and use the league to develop talent, maybe a franchise or two would catch fire and force some kind of merger. No dice. There is enough football in the fall, and the idea of throwing good money after bad for a start-up wasn’t appealing at all to the NFL. Arena League, WLAF…been there, done that. Thanks but no thanks.
So here the UFL sits, still trying to do something as a business. As of this weekend, their website is “under design” still, not a good thing for a league looking for an identity in a crowded marketplace. The franchises have found somewhat of a following, at least in Omaha and Sacramento, cities with no professional football to call their own. Las Vegas has the solid Jim Fassel at the helm and the lure of dollars in the gambling capital of the world, but not much more. So why continue?
Maybe one of the reasons is still the allure of the spring, where professional football in a football crazy society still has a void. It is where the UFL should have started, finding a way to be a litmus test for young talent, coaches and innovative ideas away from the NFL window. It was where the XFL had its shot at success, before the WWE turned it into a circus and ran it out of business. It is a time after the Super Bowl where quality competitive football could find a niche. Now there is talk of the USFL returning, but right now it appears to be lots of hype with an advisory council of elite former players and some passionate “founders” but not much else. Talk of a 2013 season has come and pretty much gone, without dates, stadiums, coaches, players or most importantly…owners with deep pockets…having arisen. For sure there is plenty of TV time to be had amongst the cable networks now out there, and in theory there is enough talent to fill rosters with a smattering of bold face former college and NFL stars to be a draw as well. The NFL will probably watch from a distance and won’t support at first, but could become parties somewhere way down the line if a league in the spring found its way on its own to financial viability and innovation. testing concussion-free equipment, using technology to innovate, taking chances the NFL never could, would all be in the offing.
So could there be a reason why the UFL is still trolling, showing it can have some viable and semi-mature markets to be swept up in a spring move down the line? Maybe. Then again maybe it is just a last-go round before the coffers run dry, which would be a shame. The saying is that hope springs eternal, and maybe that’s where the UFL, or another property could end up…bringing spring football to viability on some outdoor professional level. The fall after all, is just too crowded.