The UFL "Premiere Season": Why the UFL Will Likely See a Season Two

Tobi WritesAnalyst ISeptember 19, 2009

ORCHARD PARK - AUGUST 28:  Quarterback  J.P. Losman #7 of the Buffalo Bills looks on from the sidelines during the game against the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium on August 28, 2008 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The concept of the UFL's sampler platter of an initial season, the so branded "Premiere Season" strategy really should be appreciated for what it is: Apparent Brilliance.

It seems like a truly innovative concept. Could this be the way all future leagues that dare to compete with the NFL are launched?

The premise is quite simple.  As leagues like the USFL proved, every market is capable of drawing good fan support to two games based off curiosity and football fans' off-season cravings alone.

After that, the quality of the team and the fan experience at the previous games determine future turnout. For most teams, that means dramatically diminished home crowds for the rest of the season.

(For a heads up, that is why the XFL's attendance was better than the USFL's.  The XFL played five home games vs. the USFL's extended nine home-game schedule. This meant there was less time for a fan to get turned off and it allowed for potentially cheaper season tickets—in dollars of the day.)

The UFL only has two owners.  That is the plain and ugly truth that threatens everything about the league. The buy-in costs appear to have been judged as too much for too little chance of success.

But in the positive column, thanks to the high buy-ins requested, the league did receive a buy-in that gives the league the money to field four teams. The "Premiere Season" plan puts the league's assets to work to build credibility with potential owners.

With four teams, a 12-game schedule allows each team to play each other, allowing three home games each. 

Rather than playing a third game of diminishing returns in a team's host city, the teams of the league will play a third game in a nearby large city in a somewhat smaller stadium, figuring they can match the third game turnout for a curiosity turnout in a new city.

This has the added benefit of allowing the league to effectively double their exposure footprint from four cities to eight.

Lets take a peek at the schedule:

Week One
California Redwoods vs. Las Vegas Locomotives @Sam Boyd Stadium - Las Vegas, NV
New York Sentinels vs. Florida Tuskers @Citrus Bowl - Orlando, FL

Week Two
Florida Tuskers vs. Las Vegas Locomotives @Sam Boyd Stadium - Las Vegas, NV
New York Sentinels vs. California Redwoods @AT&T Park - San Francisco, CA

Week Three
California Redwoods vs. Florida Tuskers @Citrus Bowl - Orlando, FL

Week Four
California Redwoods vs. New York Sentinels @Giants Stadium - East Rutherford, NJ
Las Vegas Locomotives vs. Florida Tuskers @Tropicana Field - St Petersburg, FL

Week Five
Las Vegas Locomotives vs. New York Sentinels @Citi Field - Flushing, NY

Week Six
Florida Tuskers vs. New York Sentinels @Rentschler Field - Hartford, Conn.
Las Vegas Locomotives vs. California Redwoods @AT&T Park - San Francisco, Calif.

Week Seven 
Florida Tuskers vs. California Redwoods @AT&T Park - San Francisco, Calif.
New York Sentinels vs. Las Vegas Locomotives @Home Depot Center - Los Angeles

Week Eight
Championship Game @Sam Boyd Stadium - Las Vegas, NV

So in the league's seven-week season (a six-week schedule stretched to seven weeks with two half-league bye weeks), their four teams will play 12 games with each team "hosting" three games. 

The California Redwoods will host three games at AT&T Park—a baseball stadium that was wisely built with football in mind and made the XFL's San Francisco Demons that league's attendance leader. With a similar price structure to the XFL and the 49ers in the middle of an ugly divorce with the city, it seems the UFL has wisely deduced that San Francisco is one of their best plays—hence all three Redwoods home games will be played there.

The Florida Tuskers will host two games at their home stadium, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando and a third game in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg near Tampa Bay. Florida is never a bad gamble for good football attendance and Orlando has been a solid host city in a number of leagues.Tampa Bay was a very strong team in the USFL and, considering the NFL team's recent struggles, might again have a host of fans willing to support a competitor. Playing in a smaller stadium, the 40,000 seat baseball stadium—and slightly out of town should allow the Tuskers to draw a fairly strong turnout for their St. Pete's sampler game.

The Las Vegas Locomotives will host their first two games at Sam Boyd Stadium. In the CFL, Las Vegas was a dud, drawing under 10K a game. In the XFL, Las Vegas drew fairly well, as the city's rampant growth effectively swelled the population out closer to the stadium and the ticket price structure was considered much more reasonable to the fans. The UFL will have similar prices, the city is larger now, and the UFL season is shorter, so attendance should be a little stronger. The Locomotives will play their sampler home game at Los Angeles' Home Depot Center.  The Home Depot Center seats 29,000.  For a one shot game, they should be able to draw at least 25,000 fans.

The New York Sentinels seem in some ways the least promising of the XFL teams on the field.  The team plays three games in or near the NYC metro area, but their first game is not until week four, when it is very possible New York may carry a 0-3 record into the game. Their first game is in Giants Stadium, which in itself draws football fans to it like a roach motel draws roaches.  The team's second "Home" game is in Citi Field (thanks US taxpayers!) in flushing NY and it's final game is in nearby Connecticut at UCONN's Rentschler Field.  If the team is competitive—again, a big if—they could draw well to all three venues, as the latter two areas have been begging for pro football for quite a while.

With solid promotion, California might average 35K per game, Florida maybe a little more than 35K, Las Vegas 29K, and New York, anywhere from 28-40K.

I may be assigning too much competency to the league, but I think they will promote it properly in their host markets, so the league game attendence average should be in the 32-35K range.

While there is some chance of failure built into a short season --- Will the promotion be sufficient to sell the tickets? Is the season too short to grab a local fan's interest? Will fans in secondary home cities buy into a single game (more or less an exhibition game) of a semi-pro league? --- it is entirely likely that if properly promoted, the Premiere Season will be a box office success. 

The thinking in the league has to be that high attendance league-wide should make their cities appear viable than they may actually be.

It should give the league the credibility to get at least a couple other billionaires or at least high hundred-millionaires to buy franchises and allow for a second year.

Odds are they will be correct in that regard. 

Rich folks who want to own a pro football team on the cheap only need a compelling argument backed with reasonable sounding claims, they don't require anything that looks financially "provable" like, say,... the NFL.  They will settle for compellingly possible.  The idle rich tend to crave a little challenge.  They are confident enough in their own abilities to make a reasonable scenario work that they don't need a McDonald's-level franchising opportunity (NFL) on this size of investment.

To me, I equate this to my wife getting a false reading off a home pregnancy test.  As a kid lover, I might be quite excited to think that means I will see another member of my family arrive who will probably grow to be a self-sustaining being. I may rush out to buy baby clothes and diapers, but it really doesn't mean that a self-sufficient being is on the way.

The League also probably hopes that good attendance would allow for a network TV contract with one of the big networks or at least ESPN.  I think this might be asking too much. 

While it is entirely possible that the league will open season two with a full-time team in New York and Los Angeles (the US's No. 1 and No. 2 TV markets), the XFL had that too and no one bit for a second season, even though they were playing in a time of year with no other real football played and no strong sports competition anywhere else on the dial. The UFL will at minimum still be competing against FBS college football and its 60 games a week.

What if they enter Season 2 with Rivals and HDNET again, or less than that?

What if there is less or no significant broadcast revenue?

How do you justify and afford $12 Million dollar team salary caps? 

How do you get any media leverage without star power?

To me this is the problem with the UFL, for all it's brilliance (The "Premiere Season" concept), its premise (minor league football teams willing to let any of their star players go if those players get a better offer from the NFL, while the teams attempt to compete head-to-head with college, high school, CFL, and NFL football for TV time and fan support) is a non-starter that will likely doom the league to failure.

The UFL is far more likely to be remembered like the USFL, a league with a lot of potential that helped advance the blueprint of how to build a league to compete with the NFL.


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