The most laughable part of the United Football League's announcement is not that it is going through with its attempt to parachute onto the football landscape this October, but who it intends to attract. In a statement released by UFL commissioner Mike Huyghue, the former Jacksonville Jaguars vice president for personnel says the four-team league intends to "bring affordable, accessible football to underserved markets".
It then goes on to list the host cities, some of which will share franchises: Las Vegas/Los Angeles, New York/Hartford, Orlando and San Francisco/Sacramento.
Let's review just how famished the football fans are in these areas. Yes, Las Vegas is a sure bet to draw attention. Los Angeles has never fully embraced the professional brand. New York already has two NFL teams. Hartford isn't going to poach many Patriots fans. Orlando is college football country. San Francisco boasts both the 49ers on Sundays and the Cal Bears on Saturdays.
As an upstart attempting to capitalize on the sport's Golden Age of prosperity, popularity and on-field performance following a second consecutive epic Super Bowl, the UFL is testing the limits of just how insatiable America's desire is for football. Already available five days per week on any number of television networks and at any level (high school, college or pro) the sport has not been welcoming to pro leagues in its history. The arena league recently announced that it would not field teams in 2009. The XFL, brought to viewers by the WWE, folded within a year in 2001. The USFL lasted three seasons (1983-85), and now that the UFL has been given a date of birth, cynics and grave diggers will await word for when to bury another league that died too young.
While the UFL has financial backing ($30 million) and political connections (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, is one investor) standing out during a six-week season will be tough. In terms of marketing, league officials promise that ticket prices will be between $20-25 and advertising will be prominent on players' uniforms. How will it weave its way into the fabric of Saturday's America and Sunday's tailgates? The question is unanswered for now, just like the league has not finalized deals regarding team venues or television networks.
Whatever deals are cut, the biggest challenge will be creating a niche that will give fans a reason to pay attention other than the fact that it is football. No longer starved of the sport, fans may give the UFL a look in the fall. Whether they stay is a whole different ballgame.