It seems to be part of our human DNA to create competing professional football leagues to the NFL. But those always seem to end up in the same place; as fossils in the Wasn’t-That-A-Quaint-Idea Museum of Natural History (not open on Sundays). Is the nascent United Football league also destined for the archeologist’s brush? Their dusty, inanimate ancestors, the USFL, WFL, WLAF, XFL and Arena League, would seem to indicate yes.
(Only the girl on the far right seems to notice that there’s a game going on)
Consider the Florida Tuskers, which are the top UFL team so far, with a 3-0 record and the league’s top-rated passer and team offense. They’ve got an OK place to play (the Citrus Bowl), name coaches (head coach Jim Haslett, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, receivers coach Ike Hilliard) and even some roster names which fans can hang their hats on (Brooks Bollinger, Tatum Bell, Michael Pittman).
But is that enough? Enjoy the photo above, featuring Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer posing with some high school cheerleaders on Thursday, and keep in mind that it’s being taken, apparently, as the game is being played. Also, look at all the comfortable elbow room stands (the league is averaging 10,978 per game so far — just over 11,000 attended the Tuskers game). Doesn’t look good.
But the UFL has two things going for it.
1. It’s sole purpose at the moment seems to be to hang around and take advantage of a possible NFL lockout in 2011. That’s when the league’s collective bargaining agreement runs out, and the UFL is hoping to use the lockout to infuse their ranks with unemployed, big-name talent; at least for a little while. It could be enough bolster their TV ratings for the long haul, and draw in much needed fans.
(Um, beer man? Hello?)
2. It doesn’t seem to be taking itself too seriously. Even though their seasons overlap, the UFL doesn’t seem like it’s interested in challenging the NFL in any way. ‘We’ll take your castoffs and do our own thing with our ugly uniforms and confusing team logos. Perhaps we can one day be your developmental league. Also, we will wax and buff Roger Goodell’s car.’ The UFL is Turtle to the NFL’s Vinnie Chase. They’re content being football’s comic relief.
But here’s the bottom line: The UFL is on Versus, and that’s a huge strike. Even the XFL had a contract with NBC. Sharing a network with “Babe Winkleman’s Outdoor Secrets” is not a recipe for success.
The UFL apparently lied about its ratings for its second game, New York vs. Florida on Saturday, Oct. 10. The league said it drew a .25 overall household rating, which would be upward of 400,000 viewers. That would rate the game among the highest viewed shows on VERSUS, beating average NHL and Tour de France coverage.
But the real number, it turns out, was a .17, or about 220,000 viewers. That’s less than the average WNBA game. The UFL will live or die depending on how it does on TV, and right now it’s on life support.
But hey — Jon Gruden was on the Tuskers sidelines on Thursday. That’s something, right?