I think there is only one way to describe the inaugural UFL season in business terms, and that is a total and complete disaster. The only real thing they accomplished was taking the field, and that is no small feat. However a serious change in philosophy was needed to inure the continuation and growth of this upstart football league.
For the most part, what the league has come up with is ideal. They have changed their focus from big TV and media markets, and focused on markets with little to no NFL presence. It is a strategy that should work, on the local level and eventually on a national level.
With that being said I think that there is a, for the most part unstated, second part of the UFL plan. Beyond choosing markets for team that have no NFL presence, it seems the UFL is looking for markets that have not had much professional football presence either.
Sure Sacramento was a part of the World League of American Football, and had its own Canadian Football League as well, but little to no Arena football League presence. Sacramento had an Arena League team for just one year.
We could say much the same thing about Hartford, Conn. Sure it has a reputation as a pretty good sports town, but little to no professional football leagues have called that city home.
The League recently announced a plan to add a sixth team in year three to Norfolk, Virginia. Again this is a region of the country that has not seen much action from the other upstart football leagues.
We can say much the same thing about Omaha, Nebraska. Sure College football is king out there, but this is an untapped market for professional football for the most part.
While I understand that temptation to go after untapped markets, and fan bases that have not been burned by the other upstart football leagues, overall I don’t really agree with this part of the UFL strategy.
Markets should be picked on a case by case basis. For example Detroit is a market that has an NFL team, and has featured teams in almost every upstart football league that ha come around. This means that the UFL will likely avoid markets like Detroit.
In my mind that is a huge mistake, with a number of smaller colleges, and Detroit’s history of being a great football market (both the Michigan Panthers of the USFL and the Detroit Drive of the original Arena League drew very large crowds there), and a number of attractive facility available for use, it seems the UFL is making a mistake by passing on Detroit.
If not Detroit, then Toledo, Ohio should be squarely in this league’s gun sights. Not only does it meet all of the stated and unstated UFL criteria, but Detroit sports fans are already use to traveling less than an hour south to watch the Toledo Mud Hens (the Detroit Tigers Triple A team) play there.