Thursday’s UFL debut that featured the Las Vegas Locos and the California Redwoods didn’t arrive with much fanfare–or many fans, for that matter–but the teams showed that the principle that the UFL is built on: that there is a surplus of talent in professional football, held true.
Over the next six weeks or so, the biggest thing the UFL will have to fight against is the perception that they’ve simply re-instated NFL Europe here in the states. One of the biggest advantages they have is that NFL’s usage of NFL Europe kept any true future talent from playing in the developmental league for fear that they might lose a player to injury. Marketing the product of football without being able to rely on star power is impossible.
So in that respect, the UFL was smart to hire four coaches with NFL-name recognition, because it not only makes the games more interesting from the fan perspective, but makes it more appealing as a developmental league for players who aren’t rostered by NFL teams.
The league formerly known as the AFL (arena football league) tried to bill itself as “the league which created Kurt Warner”, which plays off the concept of star power. But the league eventually went under because it failed to hold that marketshare over the years. The AFL was a much different game, and really needed to take advantage of the differences, not to let itself become a gimmick or a punchline.
For the UFL, the legitimacy that they have on launch is more important than having a stadium full of fans in the first week. Because the overall product feels a lot like NFL Europe. But it doesn’t have to be joined at the hip with the NFL in such a manner, and certainly can distance itself from everything that is wrong with the NFL without becoming the XFL.
One of the things that the UFL seems to have done right is that it’s being used by NFL veterans who are currently unwanted by the 32 teams to show that they still have something to offer for a team during a playoff run. If you play a season in the spring, one of the biggest disadvantages about your league is that players who perform well enough to get a look at the next level simply get one of 80 roster spots, which puts you just a rung below Jessey Holley on the NFL totem pole. By having a full season, during football season, that ends in time for the home stretch of the NFL season, the UFL has really positioned itself to become the first true developmental league for the NFL: it’s doing what all of the NFL affiliates have failed at in the past.
Sure, a league where JP Losman to David Kircus is a top passing tandem leaves a lot to be desired for fans looking to get the best product for their dollar, but with NFL ticket prices at all time highs, I’m not going to sell the UFL’s ability to establish itself as just that, short.
Finally, you’ve got four pro-style offenses in the UFL, and one of the main things I think college football has suffered from in the past few seasons is that the proliferation of the spread creates a product that a lot of fans feel a disconnect to. The spread may very well be an optimal form of offense for college teams, but if you can choose to watch Denny Green and Jim Haslett duke it out on a Thursday night, or you can watch Nevada-New Mexico, well, that’s a battle the UFL can win. And more importantly, it’s the kind of competition the UFL needs to win to be viable in the long term.
So while I was hardly impressed by any of the football on the field, the fact that it was even being played represents a major step in the development of a minor league in football, and I’m in full support of the UFL’s attempt to find it’s niche in the football marketplace.