UFL Tries Again For More Football TV: Call The Right Promo Play

It's a challenge to make alternative sports leagues around existing TV sports content attractive to modern sports consumers -- despite the popularity of football.

Take the UFL -- the United Football League. It's a merger of the XFL and USFL, now airing on ESPN, ABC and Fox Sports. 

Variations to the rules of the NFL can make the game more fun to watch. For instance, teams will have three scrimmage play (run/pass) options following a touchdown.

There is also revealing more through behind-the-scenes content, of sorts.

During a recent ESPN airing of a game, a sideline reporter spoke to the quarterback of the Memphis Showboats, Stephen Case Cookus, just after he threw a touchdown pass against the San Antonio Brahmas. His nickname is the "Chef." (Yes, it’s good to have cool names to promote new sports TV content.)



This is also a lot of live audio from players on the field and coaches. For instance, you can hear coaches on the sidelines calling plays to the quarterback in real-time. And to further amp things up, there is a betting segment right at the top of the broadcast.

You can understand why investors are still pursuing more football. The NFL is the biggest TV sport -- actually one of the most lucrative TV producers of content.

College football games are also strong. Why not try to offer more football in the springtime period?

But think about it. These alternative leagues have tried for decades to become a viable business -- and they have failed over and over again.

What does that tell you? While generally serious football aficionados and analysts might see some great plays and action, the broader, more general viewer to an extent wants teams  and players that have some history and panache around them. 

Think Dallas Cowboys ... Green Bay Packers ... as well as Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU and all the rest. None of these players or franchises have this. It takes lots of time to build, of course.

Give the UFL some credit, seeming to take a more careful tack -- avoiding the really big markets of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia with teams. Instead, it focuses on mid-to smaller markets, such as Memphis, Birmingham, Houston and St. Louis, where it can see more room for some modest core growth.

Advertisers? Sports marketing stalwarts like Progressive Insurance and Chewy have sizable TV sponsorships.

Plenty of other sports brands as well make appearances. Big brands continue to be desperate to find more linear TV reach and audience -- and if they can find it with live TV sports, so much the better.

What are the TV networks thinking? Sure, why not. Saturday afternoon action in the spring with a 10-week game per team league season. There is not much downside. 

Those who are optimistic about UFL's survival may point to the AFL -- the American Football League of the 1960s -- that rose beyond that of a minor-league competitor to that of the NFL. 

Then in mid to late 1960s Lamar Hunt, then owner of the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, talked up pitting the champion of the AFL league versus the NFL champion -- amid merger talks. From all this Super Bowl was born. 

But that was a different TV era. Just three broadcast networks occupied the airwaves.

What are the dreams here of UFL investors -- including major investor Dwayne Johnson,  entertainment and movie performer and former college and pro football wannabe player? Perhaps just finding some decent footing.

Think about the NBA, which has its G-League -- the pro basketball operation's former development “D” league, renamed for a major partnership with the brand Gatorade.

Best right now to call these operations what they are:  minor leagues, development leagues, whatever. Nothing wrong with that. It's just a more honest evaluation which is probably what TV football fans are thinking anyway. 

2 comments about "UFL Tries Again For More Football TV: Call The Right Promo Play".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 10, 2024 at 12:55 p.m.

    Wayne, it has long been established that if there is an over- supply of a certain kind of TV content---whether it be science fiction, westerns, big money guiz shows, tell-it-like-it -is sitcoms--whatever---after a while average minute ratings begin to tumble as many people grow tired of the copy cats and me-too shows. One of the reasons why the NFL does so much better than baseball or pro basketball in the Nielsens is that there isn't too much of it---and, consequently, each game is more important. Contrast this with the MLB or NBA seasons which feature a host of who cares games and are set up so that many of the teams make the post season---even with dismal records. If the pro footballers go in this direction and overextend themselves with new, but not very good, "alternative" leagues and more games in the off-season they run the risk of damaging their core viewer motivation franchise. Less may trump more in this case.

  2. Ben B from Retired, April 10, 2024 at 7:31 p.m.

    I was surprised that the Michigan Panthers made it to UFL one of the 4 from the new USFL that was picked, odd to see Ford Field not packed into the stands unlike when the Detroit Lions as it is always a sellout and a waiting list for season tickets the first time that has happen. Detroit is a Lions town I hope that the Lions sign Jake Bates that guy has a leg hitting a 64 yard FG and 62 yarder as well.

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