Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hope...and professional football...Springs Eternal

Here we go again: a group of frustrated billionaires who are anxious to own a professional football team, propose to start a new league to challenge the NFL. Called the United Football League (the logo here is from an old defunct league), they think they have the tools and the talent to succeed where so many have failed before. And they actually might be right.

The New York Times had a much better article on this (you have to pay $5 to read it...sigh) that outlined the case. First, the head is Bill Hambrecht, one of the most successful investment firm heads to ever walk the financial halls. He also has the bruises to prove he knows what he is up against: he's a former part owner of the Oakland Invaders of the ill-fated USFL. His argument is that the NFL is not in most of the top 25 TV markets of the US: cities like Orlando, San Antonio, and yes, Los Angeles, have no pro football. Second, he cites great GM's and coaches who point out the last 25 players on an NFL team are interchangeable with the ones they cut. Third, he points to the success of players like Tom Brady, who was not a top draft pick and is obviously a star. Finally, he indicates that there are more than enough owners who have enough money to get involved without an expectation of immediate success: the league will bleed for years before gaining success.

He's hired well, with a CEO and a COO from the NBA. He has already attracted flashy top owners, like Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks). He has a unique approach: the league will own 30% of the team, the owner another 30%, and the remainder will be offered in a public stock offering, allowing the fans to own the team and be vested in their success. It's a sound plan, with good, smart business acumen. The question remains: will the product be good enough to attract the talent needed to make this a real threat? Only the AFL was ever successful, but it's model was similar enough to the UFL to make this new league's possibilities tantalizingly appealing. Stay tuned...

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