Where are the other Pro Football Leagues?

USFL - Mike Ehrmann

Disclaimer - there are no facts here, only fictions of varied intensity.

If you are like me, you think that watching baseball on TV is more soporific than watching golf. You are probably also scouring the interwebs looking for news about football, and, like me, you realizing that there is jack-shit going on (save for any drama that E$PiN can manufacture and tennis). Like me, you may start to wonder what happened to those fly-by-night american football leagues that used to make you ask mental questions that ended with "...why doesn't he play in the NFL?"

"Hey, that guy looks pretty fast, why doesn't he play in the NFL?"

or

"Hey, that guy can really sling the rock, why doesn't he play in the NFL?"

Well, they all seem to have disappeared, except for the Arena League...I will come back to the Arena League. There are several hypotheses for why these leagues all seem to die. I will take them on one-by-one.

Hypothesis 1: America Cannot Support More Than One Pro Football League.

Bullshit. America can support multiple versions of the same variety of entertainment with slight twists and often does this with great gusto. Here are some examples:

Singing contests - American Idol, The Voice, X Factor, Sing Off, and coming soon: Your Face Sounds Familiar - which is the working title for a singing competition for 'celebrities'.

Dance contests - The one where Kirstie Allie fell down and current and former NFL players win a lot, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Got Talent.

Shows About Cake - Cake Boss (jersey shore version), Ace of Cakes (stoner with the munchies version), Amazing Wedding Cakes (menopausal type 2 diabetes version), Cupcake Wars.

Hidden Camera Restaurant Shows - Mystery Diners and Restaurant Stakeout are on the same network. Given the general skeeviness and methiness of restaurant people, the market will undoubtedly bear 2-3 more versions of this.

Medical Documentaries - Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Doc McStuffins, that one with Sanjay Gupta in the ER.

Redneck Reality - American Pickers, Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo-Boo, pretty much anything on A&E that isn't Walking Dead.

This myth is busted bros, if there were another outdoor league right now, I'd be watching it. If you have read this far I am guessing you would too.

Hypothesis 2: There aren't enough local markets to support more teams.

Follow the MLS - Portland and Los Angeles.

Look at markets where there are large populations with no NFL teams - San Antonio, San Jose, Austin, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Milwaukee. Those are some football-loving regions. Maybe not NFL ready, but primed for a bumper league.

Regardless of market, selling your product for television has to come first anyway. If this means forcing every player to have a nickname and hiring cheerleaders that are definitely moonlighting at the local Gentlemen's club, then so be it.

Ahem, XFL, what happened? There are lots of potential explanations by smarter people than me, but it seemed to have everything going for it:

A catchy name that cashed-in on the rising popularity of the X-Games, the X-Box, and Vin Diesel.

A PG15 rated brand of entertainment from a league that touted itself as more violent and more sexy.

Major network sponsorship from NBC executives who were pissed off when CBS outbid them for AFC games in contract re-negotiations

Which brings us to...

Hypothesis 3: The fate of these leagues was the same as the fate of the ass-hat(s) in charge.

Exhibit A:

http://www.sbnation.com/chorus_images/14460301/cinema/large_1050/1370749391

Exhibit B:

http://www.sbnation.com/chorus_images/14460829/cinema/large_1050/1370750281

That's a pretty compelling case, and this article at The Examiner fairly backs it up.

Many people don't know that the XFL had plans to go to year two, and had the TV distribution to do so. UPN and TNN were both lined up to air XFL season two, but UPN wanted Vince to cut his Thursday Night Smackdown WWE shot from 2 hours to 1.5 hours. Vince refused, and the league died.

Between these two failures was the failure of the World League of American Football - but that one doesn't count because the WLAF was an NFL sponsored enterprise.

Also, the WLAF was international. Sure, Goodell loves to talk about expanding into Europe. And yes, we have something like fans across the pond. But we are a curiosity in foreign markets. American football in Europe is roughly equivalent to the Triple Crown in the US. Did you watch the Belmont Stakes? No, you didn't.

Hypothesis 4: The NFL has done a pretty good job at eating or killing off the competition.

First course: AAFC, 1949

Second course: AFL, 1970

Dessert: Watching The Donald push the self-destruct button on the USFL mothership. The USFL could have lived in the spring, but it forgot that a stadium is like a time-share, and someone else had already booked those weeks in the fall.

Interesting Caveat: Other major leagues do not have this kind of market encroachment.

The fact is, since about 1980 the only league with a target on its back has been the NFL for the simple reason of growth, revenue, and seasonal availability. Most money, shortest season, best opportunity to cash-in.

Who Loses: We do, because we are forced to watch the AFL.

I would watch spring and summer football. The only problem: it's indoors and weird. The Arena Football League has been holding steady at about 1.1 million tickets sold per season over the past 3 years. Break that up over 14 teams and 19 weeks and you are looking at an average attendance of 8500. There's room for more.

Television deals for the AFL have been as numerous as its labor disputes. Since 2003 the games have been aired on NBC, Outdoor Life, ABC, ESPN, and the NFL network. This season, they have been relegated to the CBS Sports Network where the ratings are lower than Jim Rome's final attempt at punditry.

Solutions:

The UXFL. The USFL succeeded by luring talented players away from the NFL. The XFL had an excellent marketing and television approach (14 million viewers for the first game). Combine these two things, you have a serious contender for spring football. There are enough networks on television to make a TV deal possible - you'd just have to find a network family that doesn't have a rights deal with the NFL. Turner broadcasting wants to create a new channel anyway.

The NFL could go to an A-B league format. In European soccer, you have Premier, Championship, League One and League Two (UK), Serie A, B and C (Italy), La Liga Primera, Segunda, Tercera (Spain).

Promotion and demotion are a part of those systems and may be reasonable someday in the future. However, the NFL doesn't have to use that method right away. Think of the spring league as a test for expansion markets. LA wants a team, give them a B-league team in the Rose Bowl. Let them prove to the fans that a stadium deal is worth it and prove to the NFL that expansion to LA is a viable option.

The NFL doesn't have to expand its schedule to make more money, they just have to think of spring football like Angelina Jolie's chest - cut out the mutation of the Arena League and replace it with healthier, fuller, gravity defying chesticles (outdoor spring football), and everybody wins. Especially this guy.

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