USFL, reborn?

File this one in the out-of-the-box department. A new pro football league calling itself the USFL wants to launch in 2014. Like the original USFL, the new league plans to play its games in the spring. Unlike the 80’s version of the USFL, the new league has set it sights a bit lower and broader. The new USFL expects to launch with eight teams in markets such as Southern California and Alabama.

The kicker to the league’s business plan is that the USFL has inked a deal with an unnamed national developer to build “villages” containing a 20,000-seat stadium for each franchise and ancillary commercial development to go with it. If successful, the business model would turn minor league sports inside-out. Building a stadium has been hard enough in the past, let alone building stuff to go beside it. While it’s doubtful that the additional development can be built and filled quickly enough to help defray the stadium cost in every case, there’s a chance that there could be one or two shining examples. In the South or Texas, where regulations are lax and zoning in some cases doesn’t exist, this can be fairly simple. In California, where CEQA looms large over everything, it might not be such an easy task.

Going with a 20,000-seat stadium plan for each franchise and a single-entity operations model makes the new USFL similar to the launch of MLS in 1996. MLS took numerous years of billionaire owners like Phil Anschutz pumping in money to keep the league afloat, though that was with soccer, not football. Even with the more familiar sport, Americans generally haven’t taken well to lesser-talent football, finding that the NFL and NCAA FBS serves most of America extremely well. Only the Arena Football League has survived long enough to fill that minor league niche, though it experienced its own financial problems during the recession.

The potentially problematic thing about the 20,000-seat plan is that MLS has already filled numerous markets with that size of stadium, driving up competition for decreasing numbers of 20,000-strong outdoor events. In the USFL’s press release it has indicated interest in Ohio. Columbus could be a  spot but it has a stadium for the Columbus Crew MLS team. Cleveland, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, or Dayton may be better choices. Dallas and Houston also have those stadia, while San Antonio doesn’t. Alabama, Oklahoma, and Virginia seem to be ripe for this kind of thing, though the Virginia Beach UFL team hasn’t exactly made people sit up and notice.

If the UFL folds, the USFL would be poised to pick up the pieces and establish relationships. At the very least there will be some number of temporary stadia at which to play, though minor league football isn’t exactly the sexiest proposition. They’ll also be poised to become a feeder league for the NFL, a concept that generally failed to date (UFL, NFL Europe). The AFL has had a shaky record performing in this mode, and it plans to launch its own league in China in late 2014.

No element of the USFL’s plan is more mysterious than the partnership with the unnamed developer. It’ll be fascinating to see how aggressive each market’s deployment is, and whether each team is able to succeed quickly with its development goals. If it works, we may see many medium and smaller markets use this as an example on how to build the next generation of venues. If not, USFL2 will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

9 thoughts on “USFL, reborn?

  1. Baton Rouge? Riverside County? This is interesting to me…

  2. They’d be better off setting up a rugby league instead.

  3. This is odd and interesting news. What happens if the league folds? Will the cities use it for other sports? College or high school games? How permanent are the stadiums going to be? Will they be made cheaply enough to just tear them down and replace them with more development to complement the rest of the complex if something happens to the league? What are the MLS stadium situations in the target cities? Can they work together to build one facility? Would the UFL and the USFL merge before one of them gets close to bankruptcy?

  4. The Akron Beacon Journal reported that a group has recently bought the Rubber Bowl from Akron U for the purpose of fielding a USFL team there. It seats 35,000.

  5. Good luck with another pro-football league. A new league is destined to fail no matter how good the talent level is or how strong the financial backing is. The NFL, NCAA, and even the CFL (North-east US)have too much of a strangle hold on America when it comes to football. I would like to see a rugby league get started. It’s a great sport for those that have not tried it or seen it live before.

  6. The article as presented is misinformed. The USFL and its real estate development partner are not only full partners in the constuction of the Stadium/retail complexes (retail stores, restaurants, sports bars, other sports venues, and residential, but are also owners of the 5 teams that will play at these “Company teams”. There are also 2 independently owned franchises. One is the Akron Fire owned by Team 1 sports LLC. They purchased the University of Akrons old stadium the”Rubber Bowl”, and are currently refurbishing the stadium complete with new artificial turf and jumbotron They paid $38k for the stadium. The other independent owned team is in Texas but I cannot reveal what city it is at this time. I can say the city is located on Hwy 287. The land for the 5 teams with the stadiums have been purchased and are awaiting permit approval. The funding is through private revenue bonds and the cities where the stadiums/complexes are to be located will have no capital outlay whatsoever. The stadiums to be built are of a modular construction and can be built anywhere from 90 to 140 days after the sitework is finished. One such builder of these types of stadiums is “Nussli”, they built Empire Field in Vancouver BC in 90 days from start to finish including sitework(a record for such construction). Locations/cities will be revealed once the permit process is complete and construction begins. The real estate partner of the USFL is a national well known developer/owner of commercial real estate across America. Thank you for your time. Ann.

  7. “company teams” should read stadiums near the top of my post. My apologies.

  8. I think Virginia could handle it. Virginia’s UFL team had a following, and brought about 14K fans to a stadium that was pretty separated from the rest of the region (Norfolk was a better location IMO). Unfortunately, the league was so poorly managed that nobody knew when games were held, and hung on by a thread. The year the Destroyers won the “championship” was an abruptly abbreviated season because the league was losing money.

    If playing in the spring, I’d use Norfolk State or Old Dominion’s football stadiums, both close to downtown Norfolk.

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