The reason that should have been given was the fledgling league never caught the imagination of football fans.
Despite the heavy presence of NFL talent, the UFL has always been on the brink of failure as anticipated crowds never materialized. Unlike the old American Football League, who successfully forced themselves on the NFL, all other challengers have fallen by the wayside because they came in as competitors rather than trying to find common ground.. Their goals were simple and modest. Could they draw enough fans to survive on their own until something with the NFL could be worked out? The fans said “No,” and apparently so did the NFL.
Football fans should have seen this coming, from near empty stadiums to test patterns getting higher television ratings for their games. As the old saying goes, they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin.
The UFL’s plan was a good one. The league bounced around the tube from Versus (now NBC Sports Network) and HDNet to regional sports networks to CBS Sports Network this season, an outlet that can be found on sports tiers where you pay extra to get the channel. In each instance no rights fees were paid because it was a revenue sharing agreement – after channel expenses – which was obviously not enough to keep the league afloat.
While never admitting it publically, the UFL had hoped to forge a relationship with the NFL as a sort of a minor or feeder league. Huyghue resigned in January saying the league was experiencing serious financial problems, some estimates having losses exceeding $100 million over the last two seasons alone. Don’t bet on it. Hambracht knew there would be losses with a startup league but the numbers got out of hand and now it is on the verge of total collapse.
According to league sources, the UFL will pick up the rest of 2012 in the spring and play its 2013 season as scheduled next fall. But you cannot get past the sea of fans disguised as empty seats. They went into major media markets, most without actually going there like Las Vegas (instead of Los Angeles), New York (it was actually Hartford CT and Hempstead NY), Orlando (where other pro teams have crashed and burned up the road from Tampa) and San Francisco (an area dominated by two NFL teams).
Now word is out that players and coaches were not being paid and that a high profile head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, is suing league founder Bill Hambracht for millions for “unpaid salary, bonuses and expense reimbursement.” Schottenheimer’s employer, the Virginia Destroyers, allegedly told him they were unable to fulfill their end of the “Employment Agreement.”
So with such a well thought out plan (it began two years before the “Premier Season”), why did the UFL fail?
At the inaugural UFL press conference in Orlando, Florida Tuskers head coach Jim Haslett poses with commissioner Michael Huyghue with a UFL helmet in the background.
Hambracht selected Michael Huyghue as the UFL Commissioner, a National Football League veteran with the Lions and Jaguars as well as the World League of American Football (the forerunner to NFL Europe).
Until that happened, the second-tier league protected their interests by having contracts written restricting any movement out of their league until the season was over. If it worked out it would have effectively eliminated taxi squads by having players in game shape ready to play at a moment’s notice.
The UFL wasn’t out to become this generation’s version of the AFL. The latter is now the defensive coordinator for the Redskins and one of his coaches, Jay Gruden, replaced him on the Tuskers before moving on to the Bengals as offensive coordinator.
It comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that the United Football League has suspended operations halfway into their 2012 season. They would create a fall/winter league and stock the rosters with the kind of respectable talent who were either trying to get back to the NFL or catch the eye of some general manager for a late season contract. The reason given was the lack of funds to cover such things as workers compensation and general operating costs.
The league had high hopes when it launched in 2009 and brought in such NFL luminaries as Jim Fassel, Dennis Green, Ted Cottrell and Jim Haslett. That was a sound business decision although the UFL did work with the NFL in a way letting players under contract leave if invited to a training camp.
It was said “The UFL was developed to fulfill the unmet needs of football fans in major markets currently underserved by professional football,” but they ignored markets that were pro football starved and relatively successful with other defunct leagues like the USFL – Birmingham AL (where the Stallions routinely had crowds in the 20-30,000 range), San Antonio, TX or even Portland, OR just to name three potential cities.
Before kicking off their inaugural season in 2009 there were the usual questions regarding the wisdom of starting a new professional sports league, however, the UFL was trying to do it in a bad economy
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