That Other Football League Got Another TV Deal?

Hey, you know how there’s that UFL deal, and it’s just a bunch of NFL castoffs playing football for peanuts instead of, oh doing anything else? You know, the league whose most famous participants are J.P. Losman, a cocaine dealer, and Jim Fassel (coaching, though we’d pay to watch him take some snaps at weakside linebacker)?

UFL logo
(Sexually suggestive, or just a football barfing a star?)

Well, as bad an idea as it sounds like, they have a couple good things going for them. One, back in March, they inked a TV deal with Versus to air one game a week. So, y’know, if you’re that starved for football, you can always watch on Versus. But pardon us if we feel a little unsatisfied; can’t we involve someone a little… crazier?

Hey, Mark Cuban, I didn’t see you there! Care to join in?

The United Football League today announced that HDNet will provide exclusive, broadcast coverage of five of the League’s “Premiere” season games. HDNet will air live weekly games beginning on Saturday, October 10th at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. As previously announced, eight of the UFL’s games will air on VERSUS. The UFL will announce the complete “Premiere” season schedule, television programming and ticket sales information this week.

“Mark Cuban has been a huge supporter of the UFL from the League’s initial announcement and we are thrilled to be partnering with his television network, HDNet, to broadcast five of our games,” said Frank Vuono, COO of the UFL. “In addition to broadcasting our games, HDNet will provide viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at the UFL’s training camps with additional highlight shows. Through this partnership with HDNet and VERSUS, UFL games will be broadcast nationally to nearly 90 million homes fulfilling our mission of bringing more football to more fans.”

This is big news, considering Versus is “only” in 75 million homes. At this point, adding viewers becomes a study in declining rates of return, since there probably aren’t many cable channels* that go to homes that get neither Versus nor HDNet.

*We’re assuming with a reasonable amount of certainty that no major broadcast network is picking this league up, seeing as how it’s on Saturdays - more on that in a second.

There’s not much precedent to suggest this venture will be successful. First, the XFL tried filling the football void on weekdays and folded in spectacular fashion. It was also an overgimmicked, overhyped production of Vince McMahon that depended on network ratings for success. A 1.4 rating is fine on cable. It’s nuclear disaster on NBC.

But if the UFL’s reaction to that is to move their games to Saturdays instead, that seems like a bigger mistake. Though they might make the claim that they’re playing on a generally higher level than the NCAA teams they’re in direct competition with, most of the draw of college football is slavish brand loyalty and pageantry. That, and the dozens of games being played at any given moment.

No, the UFL’s big mistake is considering themselves competitors, not complements, to either of the big two football outfits. Friday night is hands-off on account of high school football, but the league can fill the Wednesday void that neither sport will touch (ESPN does enough on Tuesdays and Thursdays that you don’t really want to go heads-up against them for ratings, even if it’s teams like, uh, Akron or Memphis involved).

But Saturday evenings? Those are for ESPN’s college football game of the week. Nobody’s going to want to watch J.P. Losman and a bunch of other retreads when a game between two top 10 programs is on the Mothership. That way lies madness, no matter how many smaller networks the UFL gets in the fold.