SBD/Issue 19/Leagues & Governing Bodies

UFL Kicks Off Inaugural Season Seeking To Feed Need For Football

 
The UFL kicks off its inaugural season tonight with the California Redwoods facing the Las Vegas Locomotives, and the league is looking to "feed a need for football that the new league's founders hope is insatiable," according to Greg Garber of ESPN.com. The UFL is "playing small ball at the outset, hoping that quality supersedes quantity." The idea from the beginning was to "grow the league into whatever the forces of the economy allow it to be," and in the early going, those in the league "invariably describe themselves as pleasantly surprised." UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue: "We have a strong product from a football standpoint." Huyghue added that he "isn't sure if the UFL ultimately will prove to be a stand-alone league, a complementary league or a developmental league for the NFL" (ESPN.com, 10/6). USA TODAY's Sean Leahy notes Huyghue's model for the league is to "keep the costs low, bring the game to cities that don't have great access to the NFL, and play in the fall -- to capitalize on what he said is a fan base that craves football every day of the week." Huyghue: "If you do those things and provide affordable prices to fans, we believe that's the right model to be successful." Leahy notes the average price of tickets is $20, while players' salaries range from $35,000-60,000, "well below the NFL minimum" of $310,000. N.Y. Sentinels DE Simeon Rice: "It lends itself to a college atmosphere because you have a lot of guys that are playing with such motivation" (USATODAY.com, 10/8).

TRYING TO FIT IN: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Naylor notes the UFL "believes it can find its niche in the crowded fall football schedule." UFL COO Frank Vuono: "We think you have to play when people expect to see football and have an appetite for football on TV. We don't want to go head-to-head so we're going to play on weeknights." Vuono added, "We've put everything we can into place and now it's time to open the doors, debut the product and let people in" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/8). UFL VP & GM Rick Mueller noted "not many leagues have survived" that have attempted to offer an alternative to the NFL. But he added, "I really believe in the system we've got in place from a cost standpoint, but I also believe there are people out there and the reception has been great" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 10/8).

Huyghue's Model Is
To Keep Costs Low
THE TIME IS NOW: Huyghue said of launching the league amid the economic downturn, "There's never a good time to launch a league. The reality is, in some respects, entertainment value for people still continues to thrive in tough times. People don't tune out entertainment, even though it's time for prioritizing." Meanwhile, Huyghue said marketing the league's players will be "dictated by performance." Huyghue: "The mistake would be to do what the USFL tried and think the only way to succeed is to sell names. Roll out a good product, the players are good enough to sell themselves." He added the "grade book" for the league is to "start with attendance, because people think, overwhelmingly, that if fans come to watch then you're successful" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/4).

MARKETING PROBLEM: In Las Vegas, Steve Carp notes the Redwoods and Locomotives both are based in Phoenix, while the Sentinels and Florida Tuskers are based in Orlando. Huyghue said that the league is "trying to limit costs, and having the teams live and train in two central locations saves money, even though it has made it difficult for the teams to establish roots in their communities." Huyghue: "It's hurt us in our marketing, no question. But we felt for the first year this was the best way to go. The priority is putting the teams together and put the best possible product on the field. It's a sacrifice we had to make" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 10/8). In Orlando, George Diaz writes of the UFL, "Where is the buzz? Where's the excitement? Most importantly, where's the marketing plan?" It is "hard to sell [the Tuskers] to the community when you haven't even established a ticket office," as "all of that is being handled through a league office in Jacksonville." Tuskers coach Jim Haslett: "I'm not in the marketing department, but to be honest with you I thought the marketing was poor and the worst thing about the league. The talent, the facilities, everything else has been done first class but the marketing department has fallen behind" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/8).

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