There are those among us who believe every event ends with winners and losers. As to the NFL lockout, it’s too early to know if NFL Inc., or Players Inc., or CBS/TBS/TNT/TruTV Inc., will be winners or losers, but I can tell you one thing: United Football League (UFL) management is dancing in the street.
The lockout seemed to be the UFL’s bet from the beginning. They saw NFL owners hire union-busting lawyers, saw them renegotiate their TV contracts in order to guarantee money in case of a lockout — in short, saw them doing all the things you need to do to prepare for a shutdown.
You can make a pretty good guess when the UFL decided the lockout was going to happen: summer 2009. The original UFL plan was to begin play in 2008 with eight teams. Instead, they opened a year late with four teams in what seemed like a spur-of-the-moment decision. The chairman of the UFL’s board of directors was hired on August 6. The California franchise announced its name on August 11. The name of the Florida franchise was announced on August 12. Training camps opened on September 13, 2009. The regular season launched three weeks later with four teams and a six-game season, followed by a championship contest in which half the league’s franchises were on the field.
The UFL has completed two seasons of play. They have announced money earned and money lost. I put these figures alongside the league’s attendance figures, which were, best case, imaginary. The UFL says it lost $32 million in Year I and $50 million in Year II. The league settled a $6 million creditor’s lawsuit just last week. Some players, even now, have not received their last paychecks for the 2010 season. The league had two-year contracts with HDNet and Versus, which meant UFL games were broadcast nationwide. Those contracts expired and have not been renewed. In a preemptory strike, ESPN declared it will not broadcast UFL games until hell freezes over. Period.
Sound familiar? Remember the USFL, XFL, NFL Europe, World Football League, and the rest? A new professional football league marches onto the playing field with heads held high, eager to conquer the sports/television industrial complex, and three years later is shoveled out the kitchen door for pigs to feed on.
Oh, ye of little faith... Introducing William Hambrecht (investment banker, chairman of Hambrecht + Co.), league founder, owner of Las Vegas Locos, a two-time UFL champion, which means they are the only champion the league has known. And let us not disremember that Bill, besides being league founder and owner of the only championship franchise, is also the possessor of the only two UFL championship trophies in existence, the aptly named “William Hambrecht Trophy.”
Things couldn’t be better. Follows is what Bill told VegasNews.com about the UFL’s prospects for 2011: “The league is currently completing its long-term planning process, and I believe that the successes of the past two years and the initiatives we are putting in place are evidence that the United Football League is moving towards a steady future.” When you hear somebody talking like that you know it’s time to go to the bank and take out all your money.
In hopes of getting some shake from the NFL lockout, the UFL has moved up its season: their first game is scheduled for August 7. This year the UFL has mustered five teams for its eight-game regular season. The championship game will be played on or about October 16 at a location to be announced. For sure. Almost certainly. Why not?
Here’s the strange part: the UFL plays pretty good football. In two years, more than 100 UFL players have been sent/returned to the NFL. Even a five-team league, without a television contract, has shown that enough skilled players are out there to populate an NFL-type professional football league. The UFL’s game is better than college football, better then the Canadian Football League, and better than the XFL ever was. This, on no marketing and nothing but bad publicity.
The UFL plays in the midst of the college football season, the NFL season (if there is one), baseball postseason, NBA preseason, start of the NHL regular season, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup. In other words, they compete with every big-time sport on the continent.
Finally, regard this UFL press release dated March 11. The Las Vegas “Locos will hold open player tryouts at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, April 9; Cerritos College in Los Angeles, CA, on Saturday, May 7.... Players must preregister online at ufl-football.com/tryouts/locos.”
The UFL is doing well just to be here. Good luck, fellas.