The latest edition in the long history of rival sports leagues, the United Football League (UFL), started play last week. I was unaware of the start of the season until I stumbled on an article in the Washington Post about one of the team owners, Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. This low profile probably bodes poorly for the new league.
The WaPo also has some information about the financial model for the UFL. The league has only four teams, which is a bit small for a new league – eight is a more common number of teams for start up leagues. Teams are in California, New York, Orlando and Las Vegas. The California team will play games in both San Francisco and LA; the New York team will play games in both NYC and Hartford. Investors put $12 million into each franchise, and there is a $6 million salary cap. The head coaches are a bunch of NHF retreads: Dennis (“They are who we thought they were“) Green, Jim Haslett, Jim Fassell, and Ted Cottrell. There are not very many high profile former NFL players in the league.
The UFL has a two year TV contract with Versus that brings in $70 million. That should keep the league around for two years. However, with only four teams in the league, if one franchise goes belly-up (a common event in new leagues) the whold league is done. That’s one reason why new leagues tend to be larger. In another interesting note on the revenue side, the league is using helmet and jersey sponsorship, which is a no-no in existing North American leagues but very common in European football.
Note that franchises are in big cities on the coasts (and the California team is exploiting the LA market which has no NFL team), and in two large cities with no NFL franchise. That’s the classic model for rival leagues – exploit open markets that are large enough to support a team in the existing league.
The league championship is scheduled for November 27th in Las Vegas. No rival league has succeeded in North America since the 1970s (defining “success” as some teams absorbed into the existing league), and the small size of the UFL, and the ongoing recession, makes me doubt that the UFL will survive.