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Can the UFL take down the NFL?


05.31.07 Posted in football, mark cuban, mls, nba, nfl, ufl, xfl by

Short answer: No. End of post. ;)

See, Mark’s bought in on a rival NFL league called the UFL, and he’s listed several valid reasons why it could work. Specifically, they are:

1. There is obviously demand for top level professional football. That is exactly what the UFL hopes to be someday, an equal of the NFL, if not more.

2. The NFL wants and needs competition. They have grown so big and powerful that every move they make is scrutinized by local or federal officials. A competitor allows them to point to us and explain that their moves are for competitive reasons rather than the move of a monopoly.

3. They just extended their CBA. Their CBA structure is not designed for a competitive environment. Competition for top players, even if the UFL gets just a few, increases prices at the top end for all teams. Every star will get paid more, but still have to fit under the cap. That forces teams to use more low cost players, at the expense of signing the middle of the roster. That gives us access to quite a few very, very good NFL players. The downside is that it will significantly impact small market NFL teams and its unclear how the NFL would respond to that and what the impact would be on the UFL.

4. There are a lot of markets that are bigger than some current NFL markets that do not have teams that would love to have a pro football team.

5. There are a lot of smart people involved in the UFL

6. Its a great TV product.

Wall Street tycoon Bill Hambrecth (former USFL owner) and Google’s Tim Armstrong have ponied up $2MM each to start the league, which will focus on cities that don’t have NFL teams.

I haven’t seen any specifics of the league itself, such as the rules, to know if this is a bad copy of the Vince McMahon created XFL that flopped shortly after inception. In case you don’t remember, “He Hate Me” was one of the “stars” of the league. Which is exactly my problem with the UFL.

Talent doesn’t grow on trees. Most NFL teams barely have a decent starting quarterback, let alone a good backup. If NFL talent is A to B+ level, and the Arena and NFL Europe are C-D, where does that leave the talent, aka potential signees, for the UFL? I’m guessing the jerseys will look a lot like the MLS players (who? Oh, that’s Major League Soccer) – covered in corporate logos.

So dissecting his points and adding a few thoughts:
#1 and 6: Low level talent = low TV ratings, low revenues and low turnout at the games.

#2 Vince McMahon said the same thing.

#3 The USFL didn’t exactly feed a ton of talent into the NFL, and that was when they were playing during non-competing seasons. I can’t imagine any top level NFL players leaving a major market to play in Topeka, KS. for a few hundred thousand dollars more.

#4 There’s a reason the NFL hasn’t started teams in certain markets – it’s because the fan base can’t support it. Smaller stadiums, smaller fan bases and smaller revenue means it will be difficult to attract NFL-caliber talent to the league.

#5 The “we have smart people” argument only holds true if everything else is equal. Smart people can’t overcome tradition. Smart people can’t convince Fortune 500s, with their huge ad budgets, to spend less on the #1 sport in America and experiment in a league in non-top 10 markets. So unless you’re running AdWords on the jerseys dynamically I just don’t see where the revenue is going to come from to sustain it long-term (aside from the owners pockets). “We have rich, smart people” almost works, but at the end of the day it takes a team of committed owners to not pull a Jerry Jones and tell the league to screw off to endorsement deals, etc — because they, quite simply, want their money.

A few other thoughts:

Will they get a few cast offs from the NFL and the other leagues? Sure. But if anyone remembers, the XFL, minus the gimmicks (which wore off after 15 minutes), was flat out hard to watch.

Now, I’ve never run a sports franchise, but as I’ve said before, business and sports are similar — and C-D level talent produces C-D level results, so there goes the lucrative TV deal (anyone else hear VS. calling?).

I’m not going to poo poo the notion completely, because the NBA has tested the waters with the Hornets in Oklahoma, but a lot of markets that don’t have NFL teams due to the aforementioned lack of support do have vibrant NCAA football teams (see: USC and UCLA in LA, OU football in Oklahoma, etc).

Here’s a thought of where it could lead — the UFL could become the minor league in the US for players who want to leave college early but can’t enter the NFL, or players like Ricky Williams who can’t lay off the pipe et al. And if that’s the case then don’t be surprised if the NCAA and/or NFL don’t try to put that stake in the ground first. Remember the CBA? Isaiah Thomas purchased the league, then refused to sell it to the NBA (The CBA deal would have earned Isaiah $1MM in profits from the NBA), so the NBA’s answer was the NBDL. Buh-bye CBA.

The NFL is king for a reason, and it starts with talent. Could the UFL end up being sold to the NFL for a profit? Sure. Is there potential for it overtake the NFL? No way.



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