The Lull

I hate the day after the Super Bowl. Football season just ended, Spring Training is still a month away, and the hot-stove league is concerned with minor deals. I used to be a big basketball fan, but I just don’t find it interesting anymore. I’ll watch a little March Madness, and maybe some of the ACC Tournament, but I’m just counting the days (56) until Opening Day.

Now, I prefer baseball to football, but I do enjoy watching football on the weekends when baseball isn’t on. And though I often find my preferences to be different than the average American, I think this is one of the cases where many people feel the same way. The NFL is raking in money, but I think there is plenty more on the table. Why doesn’t the NFL expand its regular season by a few games? Why hasn’t another league started up to compete?

I think one of these two things has to happen very soon. I haven’t done an in depth study of the issue, but the revenue and salary numbers lead me to believe that NFL players are not paid nearly what they generate in terms of revenue. I think it would be very easy for a rogue league to get many good players to jump ship. Additionally, many college players participating in the student-athlete farce of “college” football ought to be willing to jump to pro football.

The USFL tried and failed over 20 years ago (1983-1985). The XFL didn’t last more than one season (2001). Both of these leagues had problems. The USFL was poorly organized, but still almost survived. The XFL was a joke, and forgot the fundamental reason why people watch football—it’s a fun game to watch and doesn’t need any fake drama. Plus, the XFL did not pretend to hire major-league talent.

The sports world is booming along with the economy. More and more fans—in particular, wealthy fans—are watching football. And we have plenty of eccentric billionaires who would love some public adoration. Now is the time for new league or an expanded slate of NFL games. There’s just too big of an opportunity here for this not to happen.

6 Responses “The Lull”

  1. Larry Seltzer says:

    The USFL should have stuck with the Spring/Summer and they might have made it. Nowadays an off-season league would have an even better chance, since there are many fewer multi-sport venues. How many football venues are being used in the spring/summer now? They’d have more competition from soccer than anything.

    I was a Philadelphia Stars season ticket holder (the Stars were the class of the league) and I remember this was a big problem. The Stars had to move to Baltimore because they couldn’t use the Vet in Philly once the league announced a move to a fall schedule (which they never followed through with).

  2. Mac says:

    There would be weather problems if they moved the regular season into January, and the TV networks probably wouldn’t like games to be moved into August (before the TV season begins). On the other hand, if they moved the Super Bowl further into February it would be during sweeps, though that might pose problems as well…

    There hasn’t been a remotely successful big-time startup league in any sport since the ABA, and that wasn’t that successful. The USFL actually was a success story compared to other post-ABA startups.

    Finally, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite for minor league football. You’d probably need to bring in established players and top collegians (as the USFL and before it the WFL did) but the problem there is that it would cost a lot of money. I’d think something like $30 million a team, at least. That’s a lot of financing to secure, especially if (other than LA and New York) you’re playing in smaller cities.

    Personally, I’d be thrilled to see Birmingham get a chance to kill another league, it’s been far too long.

  3. tangotiger says:

    There’s no question that the NFL isn’t giving its players as much as the other leagues. First, you never really hear about NFL teams losing money. Their margins are probably higher, and since the biggest expense is player salary…

    Secondly, the enterprise value to revenue ratio is double in the NFL to the other league. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this continues to grow.

    Players are leaving money on the table, which is great for the bottom line and the enterprise value.

    I’m surprised that no economist has talked about this: when the NHL had their draft lottery, I was on record as saying that whatever team would win the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes would have their franchise value increase by at least 20 million$. Why is that? Because Crosby is a great player who is forced, because of the rookie contract cap, to accept far less than he is worth. Well, the value of Crosby is still what it is (he’d have earned 20 – 25 million$ over a 3-year period, not the 3-4 million he’ll get). That value doesn’t disappear. It went to the Penguins.

    And, guess what? The team was up for sale, and then promptly removed for sale when they won the Crosby sweepstakes. Then, only part of the team was put up for sale. And I think the whole thing worked out to a 20 million$ difference.

  4. Andrew says:

    JC,
    I’m going with mostly college baseball (reigning champs, Oregon St., come to Athens this weekend!) and some hockey since the Thrashers are essentially in the playoffs already. It may not be the crack of a wood bat, but college baseball is still pretty exciting.

  5. Jason says:

    Actually the Penguins were up for sale again this year and not just part of the team but the whole team. A potential buyer emerged but the owners became convinced he just wanted to move the team, so they told him to get lost. It’s a long story, but the current owners held out hope of keeping the team in Pittsburgh and began to talk of moving the team only after it became apparent that they weren’t going to get a new arena in Pittsburgh.

    As far as the NFL goes, there has been talk of dropping 2 pre-season games and converting them into regular season games. I think it will eventually happen. Playing pro football takes a bigger toll on the body than in other sports. The human body can only take so much punishment. We’re probably at the limit now. Scheduling concerns are right now keeping the league from converting 2 pre-season games to regular season ones, but I think eventually it will happen. The league could function with just 2 pre-season games as most talent evaluation can be done in practice, so they don’t really need 4 pre-season games. Most rosters are unofficially set before the 4th pre-season game anyway.

    I don’t think there is enough talent to justify another professional football league. Just look at the Arena League or NFL Europe for an idea of what another professional football league would be like.

  6. Scott says:

    The WLAF (now NFL Europa) and XFL showed that fans of the professional game don’t really have the desire to follow minor-league quality football.

    I think the only way a new league could be successful like the old AFL was is to get owners or (if it goes league-owned teams route) investors with deep pockets — individuals who can afford to bleed cash for the first 3-5 seasons — and compete directly with the NFL – going after top NFL free agents and college talent. If the new league came up with innovative revenue sharing plans for its players, I think that would be a strong lure for players from the NFL.

    In addition, I think a new league would need to hire innovative football minds — to open up the game. I think one reason the XFL was successful early, was hyping itself as an edgy alternative to the (N)o-(F)un (L)eague. As everyone later learned, they played the game no differently than the NFL, and certainly no better (I doubt anyone believes that the XFL’s championship team could have competeed against any of the NFL’s better clubs). For our league. we need to see some innovative football strategies on both side of the ball. Some intriguing new rules to open up the game would be welcome too.