When I heard about the United Football League, another upstart pro football league set to debut in the fall, I had the same reaction as hearing about another Pamela Anderson marriage. A sense of déjà vu followed by a feeling that the plug would inevitably be pulled on the thing before it ever reached its one-year anniversary.
You would think in a country where football has become far and away the most popular sport that there would be room for a second pro football league that could complement the NFL, especially in the off-season.
Yet, one by one, each one falls by the wayside, no matter what unique spin owners might put on it. They can hold it indoors (Arena Football League), hold it overseas (World League), run it like a pro wrestling show (XFL) or spend more money than is available (USFL) and it doesn't matter.
Not only is the UFL set to premiere in October, but two other pro football leagues are set to open up shop within the next year with the All American Football League and the USFL (yeah, they're back) set to debut next spring.
As much as I'd like to see one of these leagues succeed, I know they will inevitably fail -- just like every league before them. Not because there isn't room for another pro football league in this country, but because none of these owners have figured out how to build a connection between the fans and their teams.
The USFL will try to do it by playing with the rule book (four-point safeties, three-point conversions and no touchbacks or kneel downs), the AAFL will try to do it by adopting the college rulebook and college graduates unable to make it in the NFL as a way to cater to college football fans and the UFL, well, to be honest I don't know what they're doing.
There will only be four teams in the UFL led by former NFL coaches Dennis Green (San Francisco), Jim Fassel (Las Vegas), Jim Haslett (Orlando) and Ted Cottrell (New York). They will play for six weeks beginning in October and finishing over Thanksgiving weekend. And most interestingly all the teams will stay and train in Casa Grande, Arizona, and travel to the different cities for games.
On the surface this seems like another disaster and probably will be as it's currently laid out. But if they're willing to think outside the box and open the league up, they just might be able to survive.
The idea of having four teams, headlined by recognizable coaches, staying and training in one central location might seem odd but it has all the makings of a hit reality television series.
Think about it. It would be a six-week, all-access journey into the lives of these players and coaches as they help build an upstart league and possibly make it back to the NFL. It would be a mix of the Real World, American Idol and The Ultimate Fighter unfolding on the football field every week.
That's how you build a fan base, by telling stories and creating a connection between the audience and the performers. The success of the UFC can be directly correlated to the success of The Ultimate Fighter because fans were no longer watching two unknown fighters; they were watching two guys they had grown familiar with over time. The UFL could easily do that on a league-wide level with its four teams.
Of course, the UFL won't do this. The league will simply plow ahead by playing games in October and November, hopelessly competing against high school, college and NFL games. In the end they will likely meet the same fate of every league before them that found out that football alone can not sell itself. You need to build a connection between fans and players for anyone to care about your product.