UFL: Potentially a Bigger Flop Than The XFL?

Aaron LiebmanAnalyst IJuly 28, 2009

The so-called Xtreme Football League, still the butt of late-night talk show jokes and considered one of the biggest sports flops, let alone business flops in history, opened play in 2001 and ended in, well, 2001. WWE wrestling promoter Vince McMahon announced the league the day after the 2000 Super Bowl and promised to bring a new brand of football. What he meant was he intended to mix storylines with actual football play, similar to his wrestling organization. 

He even got Jesse the “Body” Ventura, who also had a part-time job moonlighting as governor of Minnesota, to comment on games. In one specific instance, an angle was setup where Ventura criticized New York Hitmen coach Rusty Tillman for being conservative on offense, calling him “gutless Rusty.” The only problem was that this was an actual sport and Ventura and Tillman weren’t able to go at it.

It's kind of amazing how, as the league was failing, McMahon never had the idea of having those two throw down at the 50-yard line during halftime of one of the games.  Perhaps, if the league survived, we would’ve seen a halftime on-field throw-down between the two.

Needless to say, the league flopped, and just when it looked like everyone learned their lesson about more football leagues, the announcement of the United Football League came. Before we could even grasp the concept of how another league would, or even could work, word came that the league would play its season during the same season as the NFL

At least the XFL recognized the potential of luring football fans who had no other options for watching football by playing in spring. League spokesmen then explained that the games would be played on weeknights and Saturdays. Uh, haven’t they heard of something called college football?

To make matters worse, the league still doesn’t know where its teams will play. So far there are four definite locations—all without team names—in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Orlando. Okay, New York is a given, but San Francisco already has a known football team, while Orlando is proportionate enough to other teams in Florida. What type of crowd are they hoping to attract in Las Vegas? How many permanent residents could they have there to build a fan base; and any tourist who comes to Vegas will have football, at least watching it, as the last thing on their minds. Isn’t this the last thing Las Vegas wants, for people to leave the casinos? 

It must be a complete slap in the face to Los Angeles for not being guaranteed a team.  Now, the City of Angels is in the process of consideration, but still not a definite. I guess the league feels the high rollers in Las Vegas will make up a better crowd. Also in the running for teams, or who knows, maybe leagues trying to avoid being named a location are Hartford, Salt Lake City, and Chester, which is in Penn.

Even if all those cities do get teams, how much of a season could they get playing with that few? As of right now, there are only four, which would only mean like a six or seven-week season. Maybe the league officials are planning on it to fail and thus not wanting to plan too far ahead.

As of right now, the league will televise its games on the Versus cable network. They couldn’t even get MyNine, or whatever UPN is calling itself these days, or even SpikeTV, who would rather air reruns of MXC.

The NFL and sports in general have built themselves up through television. With only a handful of teams to go see in person, how else will the league catch on if they can only be seen on an obscure cable channel?

The teams are currently made up NFL cast-offs, which includes coaches. Former Giants coach Jim Fassel, apparently unable to get a job with the Oakland Raiders, will coach the Las Vegas franchise. It seems New York doesn’t want him back, even coaching in another league. Former Saints coach and Rams interim coach Jim Haslett will lead Orlando, Ted Cottrell will be in New York, and Dennis Green “they are who we thought they were” will coach in San Francisco. 

You have to wonder: Which is more embarrassing, having to coach in the league, or getting to play?  I would have to say coaching, because as we all know Rod “He Hate Me” Smart was able to parlay a career in the NFL from his time in the XFL. Most significantly, high draft choice flop Tommy Maddox won the league’s MVP and resurrected his career, albeit shortly, in Pittsburgh.

So far the most noted names, or at least names I’ve heard of, are, of course, the quarterbacks. They include J.P. Losman, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, and Brooks Bollinger.  The San Francisco team might want to keep a jersey warm for Alex Smith.

What will be the result of the UFL? The American Football League rivaled the National Football League in 1960 by playing not only the same season, but the same days, and in similar cities like New York and Dallas. That league not only survived, but brought several innovations to football, and this season its teams will wear commemorative jerseys celebrating its 50th anniversary. The All-American Football Conference produced the 49ers, Colts, and the Cleveland Browns, who shocked the existing NFL by becoming the team of the 1950s and beating up its competition. It could be that we will soon see the Las Vegas Gamblers—my choice for the team’s name—as a team in the NFL.