The UFL: Not a Total Train Wreck, But Still…

Elliott SmithCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2009

So, out of a morbid curiosity combined with being a sucker for doomed football leagues, I tuned into the debut of the United Football League on Saturday night, when the New York Sentinels and Florida Tuskers (?) faced off for gridiron glory.

And much like the late, yet unlamented XFL, the football wasn’t half bad—given the league is made up of NFL washouts, on-the-bubble NFL talent, and former NFL coaches, this is to be expected—and you can imagine that by the end of the league’s brief season, it will be better.

The question is, who will be around to see it?

When the XFL launched in 2001, it had the massive marketing power of both the WWF and NBC behind it, and the opening weekend drew huge crowds and massive TV ratings. While neither lasted, it at least made an initial splash.

On the other hand, the UFL’s debut went virtually unnoticed, as the embarrassingly small crowds at both games would indicate. In addition, the league is on the cable hinterlands of Versus and HDNet—not exactly top-of-mind locations for the average sports fan.

Which brings me to my main point: the UFL’s business model is entirely broken, and there’s no way the league will be anything more than a punch line being played at empty stadiums if they don’t change it.

You simply can’t go up against the NFL in the fall. There’s no way.

But even if the UFL is saying it isn’t competing with the NFL by playing on Thursdays and Saturdays, the model is still wrong. Here’s what the Sentinels-Tuskers game was going up against Saturday night: the MLB playoffs, college football (including the Florida-LSU showdown), the opening week of the NHL season, and in the next couple of weeks, the NBA.

There’s no way on God’s green Earth that any self-respecting sports fan is going to watch the equivalent of Triple-A football when any of those other sports are on, which is why if the UFL knew what was good for them, they’d switch to being a spring league next season.

I’d love to see a viable alternative to the NFL—it was good seeing some familiar faces (Simeon Rice, Brooks Bollinger, etc) and some random ones (former Steelers longsnapper Jared Retkofsky, Northwestern linebacker Tim McGarigle)—but even I’m not going out of my way to watch the UFL when there are so many other options out there.