Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 May 2012

The League of Magical Thinking

Whatever happened to the UFL, anyway? Special guest appearance by Mike Tanier!

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 17 May 2012

7 comments, Last at 20 May 2012, 6:57pm by Joseph


by Guido Merkens :: Thu, 05/17/2012 - 2:55pm

I heard that after that season when Jeff Brohm put up the ludicrous passer rating, the rest of the league just decided they couldn't compete.

Seriously, though, great article.

by Joseph :: Thu, 05/17/2012 - 2:57pm

After reading the recent article about the "new" USFL, I figured the UFL had shut down.
I still think that the problem of these startup leagues is the business model. The Arena League has survived for a while, and has expanded, been shown on ESPN, etc. because of it's sustainability. Any owner can survive for a couple of seasons losing (for him) a little bit of $$, if the ability to become profitable is being shown. [For example, losing $1M the first season, but only $400K the second season because of increased ticket sales, team merchandise, etc.] But when a league has to cut things short, or temporarily shut down, it's going down--it's just a matter of time.

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2012 - 3:57pm

I've never understood temporarily shutting down. It's a total desperation move that is bound to fail because you've announced to your customers that you're in dire straights and they can't rely on you being around.

The business model is vital because to succeed, these secondary leagues need to keep costs down. Everybody fondly remembers all the big-names who played in the USFL, but they bankrupted themselves in the process--that's not a sustainable model. But, the moment people look at regular football that's clearly below NFL or even major college standards, they tend to quit watching. Even with all the extracurricular foolishness of the XFL, they still couldn't hide the product on the field was sub-par. The thing arena ball gets right is they're a unique product from regular football. They produce tons of points and excitement and the nature of the game makes it where you can't really tell that these aren't the greatest players on the planet.

by rageon :: Thu, 05/17/2012 - 5:22pm

I didn't watch a lot of XFL, but what I saw seemed to be a higher quality product than college football.

by dbostedo :: Fri, 05/18/2012 - 9:39am

College football, as discussed elsewhere on this site I think, is unique compared to pro leagues for a few reasons :

-- Most of the fans attended to school, or had a close relative attend, so they've automatically got a built-in fan base

-- College teams ARE the elite product for that age group of football players (i.e. they don't compete directly with the NFL to be the highest quality league, the way the USFL, UFL, and XFL have tried)

-- They are a feeder directly to the NFL, and get exposure and viewers from that

I think the new USFL is trying to use the second and third to its advantage by trying to be a feeder league and not directly compete for the best talent.

by Joseph :: Sun, 05/20/2012 - 6:57pm

I agree completely.
My question still is, "What is your business model?" Indirectly tied to that would be, "How do you plan to sell tickets?" Especially considering they aren't going to get any real TV money (not enough to sustain operations, at least). If I were an owner, I would definitely be looking at "family/group" ticket packages--(buy 3 season tickets, get the 4th free! [and of course, the 4 seats are together]; buy 5 or more tickets the week of the game, get $15 of vouchers for any concession stand!; group of 20+=1/3 off your season tickets!) And of course, any good owner should look at as much local sponsorship as possible.

by Theo :: Thu, 05/17/2012 - 7:20pm

Youtube legend Noel Devine played there.