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Is the United Football League done?

Armstrong and league officials had no leverage strong arming politicians in making demands for new stadiums and getting 92 cents of every dollar generated in the facility to flow back into the league or individual owners. Mayer used three stadiums in 2009 for the New York Sentinels and settled on Hartford.

Hartford is a problem for a league made up of mid-level American cities looking for a large local cable TV deal. The regional sports networks in New York and Boston probably would not be interested in Hartford games at a premium price although a couple of Colonials games ended up on the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins owned New England Sports Network. The same holds true for Comcast's Sacramento region sports network, or Comcast's Mid-Atlantic sports network or MASN in the Virginia Beach territory. Las Vegas is part of the Los Angeles regional sports channel’s reach and Omaha is not enough of a draw for any Midwest sports channel to pay big dollars.

The league played games all over the calendar and flew under the radar in terms of scheduling games on Friday night and Saturday during the fall. The NFL doesn't play on Friday nights or during the day and not on Saturdays during the high school and college football seasons in a trade off for an antitrust exemption for television purposes. The NFL never plays a regular season game on Friday nights and presents Saturday games starting in mid-December.

The league never was able to land a big national cable TV contract and there was little hope for a national over-the-air network to pay any sizeable rights fees for an entity which in 2009 was located in New York, Sacramento, Orlando and Las Vegas. Mark Cuban's HD Net and Comcast's Versus had television rights.

In 2010, Hartford, Las Vegas, Omaha, Orlando and Sacramento had teams. Again that really is not appealing in terms of national footprint.

The UFL wanted fans not customers and pushed the league as a good place to watch football at a fraction of the price of NFL tickets. That doesn't work anymore in the world of big time sports. Attendance was poor in many spots.

There have been many "rival" football leagues that tried to gain a piece of the professional marketplace. There were four versions of the American Football League. The second version of the American Football League featured the Cleveland Rams in 1936. The Rams franchise jumped to the NFL in 1937 (that franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1946, Anaheim in 1980 and St. Louis in 1995). The All American Football Conference lasted four years between 1946 and 1949. The NFL took three of the AAFC's franchises, the Cleveland Browns (another Cleveland franchise that ultimately failed and was moved by the owner Art Modell to Baltimore in 1996), the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts (a franchise that went to New York in 1951, Dallas in 1952, back to Baltimore in 1953 and Indianapolis in 1984). AFL IV, which was bankrolled starting in 1965 by David Sarnoff’s NBC-TV, merged with the NFL in 1966 with the NFL taking all ten of the AFL's teams in 1970.

Other rivals perished.

The World Football League folded in 1975 after nearly a two-year run. The NFL moved the Pro Bowl to Hawaii after the WFL ended perhaps as a thank you to Hawaiian land developer Chris Hemmeter, the WFL owner who put the league out of business. The United States Football League had a three year go between 1983 and 1985. The USFL sued the NFL on antitrust grounds in a lawsuit headed by Donald Trump in 1986. The league won the lost suit (the battle) but Trump lost the war as a jury gave Trump's league a dollar in damages (apparently Trump's lead attorney Harvey Myerson did a great job getting the court win but messed up after the jury came back with a one dollar damage fee by not asking the jurors why they came up with the dollar figure while he had the opportunity).

Trump pushed the lawsuit while the NFL was looking for another solution which would have included taking two USFL franchises into the league. It was thought that Baltimore and Oakland (replacing two NFL franchises that moved to different cities) were the two markets the NFL wanted.

The NFL did not want Trump.

The International Football League and the Professional Spring Football League never got off the ground. In 2000, Bill Futterer's Spring Football League played a few games and then folded. Vince McMahon's spring time XFL was backed by General Electric's NBC network with dollars and exposure but the league folded shortly after the completion of the 2001 season. NBC Sports executive Ken Schanzer pulled the plug on McMahon and the XFL.

The XFL had a cable TV deal with TNN at the time and ESPN was allegedly very interested in the league for the 2002 season according to one prominent XFL official who still rues the day that Schanzer ended the XFL. According to that insider Schanzer didn't want a GE-NBC property on ESPN and he simply folded the league. The XFL would have been a cable only entity in 2002.

UFL officials knew the financial history of rival leagues and decided to test the marketplace for football in a crowded football environment in 2008 (just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers) in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The UFL pulled back in 2008 and did not play until 2009. The league is supposed to announce plans for 2011 by August 15.

By that time only the owners, coaches, players and UFL personnel and their families will be the only ones caring if the league folds or plods through another year.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition" is available at bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle.

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Comments (6)
6 Saturday, 10 December 2011 12:56
Clyde Swartz
I like to see the United Football League forever and never shut down because UFL is look so good new faces more than NFL like rip off so much and NFL Headquarter been bad charactor and attitudite so subbornest. That is true,
I want to see UFL keep forever and good business. Keep support them alot.
I hope NFL shut down one day.
5 Tuesday, 30 August 2011 15:16
Scott Miller, Orlando Florida
I realize this story is closing in on a month old, however the UFL is a joke. Most of the people who worked for the league the first year left, most the second year are gone - most for the same reason, the league NEVER pays it's bills.

Most, if not all of the marketing and PR people from last year were left holding the bag on expenses and were never paid for their work. Sideline crews, equipment people, team people, game day program printers and Photographers such as myself were all stiffed by these dirt bags.

They know what and to whom they owe, they just ignore it and keep moving forward racking up more debit along the way and screwing everyone who gets involved with this league.

I will dance on the UFL's grave the day they fold..

Scott Miller
Orlando, Florida
4 Friday, 19 August 2011 11:59
CSS
Hope UFL remain in the business as long as possible. Dont be give up like WFL, USFL and XFL. Keep positive okay.
3 Sunday, 31 July 2011 13:30
Bill Smith NNR Mooheadradio.com
As always Evan brings the inside story to his readers.
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1 Saturday, 30 July 2011 16:42
GEN WARREN
The Fans of the UFL teams Do Care and DO want this league to make it - Not all of us Have "DEEP" pockets that are needed to see other Pro sports - This League Caters to the Small guy- Not those of Upper status such as those who owe and support the NFL Are we not entitled
to our fun also ????

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