UFL Positioning Itself to Benefit From Extended NFL Lockout

I keep reading quotes from various players and agents saying they expect the current NFL lockout to last well into August or even September. Yikes! I hope that's not how it plays out, but it's looking more and more likely. This would be perfect timing for the struggling United Football League as they look to acquire better players and thus raise public interest in what they have to offer. So far, investors haven't received much of a return as the league is currently millions of dollars in debt. That may be about to change, however. Greg Garber from ESPN.com says timing is everything:

"If I had to guess, September is the more likely time frame [for resolution] than any other," (UFL Commisioner) Michael Huyghue said. "That's just enough of a window that people would know what we're about. We could attract viewers and more players. Listen, $10,000 a week is better than nothing when you need to pay for that Porsche and Mercedes."

Huyghue has done his homework. During the 24-day players' strike of 1987, the NFL kicked off three games using replacement players.

"More than 4 million viewers watched those replacement games," Huyghue said, "and our games will be better than that. If people need their dose of football, we can amply provide it."

But will one of the major networks risk offending the NFL for what is essentially a short-term summer replacement series? Conversations with programming people suggest the answer is yes.

Should the UFL expect to immediately become anywhere close to the NFL in terms of quality and public interest? Probably not and they seem to be keeping their expectations low. Still, everyone can see that the opportunity for growth and maybe even, dare they dream it, profitability would definitely be there if NFL owners and players continue to drag their current CBA disagreements into September and beyond. Jerry Glanville sees this opportunity beginning immediately after the NFL Draft next month:

New Hartford Colonials coach Jerry Glanville told Florio on PFT Live Thursday that he will aggressively go after players that go undrafted in April’s NFL Draft.   NFL teams won’t be able sign undrafted players during a work stoppage.

"I think this is an unbelievable opportunity . . . I promise you I’ll be on someone’s front porch," Glanville said.  "I’ll be there in person.  If we can sign the people that we want to sign that aren’t drafted, we’ll have great football teams."

The best of the undrafted free agents may not listen.  But if the UFL could convince others to try their league first, they would create an uncomfortable situation for the big boys.

Putting the UFL aside for a moment, I wonder how this inability to sign undrafted players may affect the Saints. We know that Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have been able to find some quality undrafted players since teaming up in New Orleans. Pierre Thomas is the poster child for this success and Chris Ivory is the latest example. Might this restriction affect their draft strategy this year?

Back to the UFL, they currently plan to roll out five teams for their 2011 season, for which they've shrewdly moved the start date up to the weekend of August 7th in order to capitalize on any NFL delays. These teams are:

If I were the NFL owners, I might be a little concerned about this other league. Firstly, if enough NFL players struggling to pay their bills during this lockout gravitate to the UFL, that may cause problems for some NFL teams once an agreement is finally reached. I'm not suggesting the higher paid NFL stars may wonder away, but many of the lesser-paid, no-name players that fill out every NFL roster definitely could and, per the agreement between leagues, the NFL would have to pay $25,000 to the UFL for each player they want back once NFL play resumes. This wouldn't be a large amount for a $9 billion a year business, but it sure would aid the UFL's financial struggles.

Secondly, if the UFL manages to acquire television contracts that enable football fans to view their games, this would raise public awareness of the UFL and would then make it a more viable competitor to the NFL. Also, these TV contracts would provide the upstart league with revenue it could then use to not only get out of debt but also to expand. Added teams would then open up a need for even more NFL players who might still be looking for work.

If the lockout lasts well into the summer, I wouldn't be surprised if the players union worked out some sort of deal with the UFL that gave them added leverage against NFL owners in a new collective bargaining agreement. This "other league" seems poised to become at least slightly more relevant in the coming months.

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