Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Kids on the Block...

After watching the NFL's Monday Night Football game last night, I longed for even more pigskin action, so I watched a United Football League (UFL) game & followed that up with a Lingerie Football League (LFL) game. I've actually enjoyed the 2 alternative leagues thus far & thought I'd share my thoughts on each this afternoon.

Though many aren't yet aware of either of the 2 leagues, the NFL has definitely found a little extra company within the sport over the past 2 seasons as the LFL & UFL are doing their best to command a bit more attention from those either looking for an alternative to the NFL, or those die-hard football fans (such as myself) who simply desire MORE football action.

This season the United Football League consisted of 5 teams, each of which played an 8-game schedule. League ownership (which include the likes of Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban & Google IPO, Bill Hambrecht among others*) strategically placed each of it's professional football franchises in cities that currently lack an NFL presence. The rules of the 11-on-11 league closely mirror those of the NFL & provides players (who were unable to secure NFL franchise roster spots) an opportunity to continue playing the game.

UFL rosters feature a unique blend of rising stars & former NFL castaways that still have something to prove – either to the world, or themselves. The 1st 2 seasons of UFL games were aired on Versus & HDNet, respectively. In 2011, the league expects to add a 6th franchise & increase the length of the season to 10 games after beginning with just 4 franchises which played a 6-game season in 2009. With far more recognizable former stars from college & NFL teams, I found it more exciting to watch than Canadian Football League games (even with just 5 franchises currently in operation).

The UFL most definitely isn't a threat to the financial viability of the NFL & though this is hardly the 1st crack at developing an alternative professional football league (aimed at capturing some of the NFL's loyal fan base), I do believe that the business model of each could easily co-exist as an extension of the NFL to some degree.

It's long been rumored that the NFL has been exploring the idea of a developmental football league, akin to the NBA Developmental League (NBDL) & it seems to me that the UFL might be providing the perfect model for such a concept (even though that's clearly not their intent). UFL ownership groups have stated their vested interest in operating as a league independent of NFL involvement, but the reality is that there's only room at the top of the mountain for one king.

In stark contrast, the Lingerie Football League boasts 10 (all female) teams which only play a 4-game season**. The LFL got it's start almost 7 years back during halftime of the NFL's Super Bowl XXXVIII (between the Panthers & Patriots). It was then that the 1st 7-on-7 LFL game debuted on pay-per-view. Ironically, this is also the Super Bowl where Janet Jackson & Justin Timberlake had the infamous wardrobe malfunction. The LFL continues to airs it's championship game during the Superbowl, thusly giving viewers two meaningful games to look forward to on Super Sundays.

Popularity of the original annual Super Bowl halftime game, gained more & more traction with each subsequent Super Bowl, so much that the idea was raised that the annual game be broadened into a true league of it's own (no pun intended). As the name of the league suggests, participants wear revealing football uniforms (incl. the traditional shoulder/knee pads & helmets) in an attempt to lure those who enjoy the combination of sex-appeal, physicality & raw competition alike. League rules most closely resemble those of the Arena Football League** (AFL), which briefly ceased operations in 2008.

In 2009 LFL games were aired on a limited basis, in syndication, before MTV Network purchased rights to air 2010 LFL games; presenting a condensed game format reducing the televised length**** of games into 30-minute segments, perfect for MTV2's Friday night 11:00p - 11:30p time slot. MTV 2 markets the games as "True Fantasy Football," which I personally found to be a nice play on words.

As one might imagine, the LFL has been the subject of much controversy due to the misogynistic overtone & outward appearance***** at 1st glance but in it's defense, it doesn't take long to appreciate the athletes as such & not the sexual objects many portray them to be. Each of these women of the gridiron leave it ALL on the field each & every game, earning my respect in doing so.

Just last night I witnessed a violent crack-back block (helmet-to-helmet at that) & an outstanding one-handed touchdown catch - much like what you'd see in any men's professional league, so if you've got any notion that the participants in this league don't take their craft seriously, you're sorely mistaken. I'll most definitely be attending 1 of the Baltimore franchise's home games next season (assuming there will be a 3rd season of course, lol).

[*] Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite & Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL complete the UFL’s current ownership group. The Tampa Bay Rays (MLB) sold their ownership stake in the league following the 2009 season.

[**] The LFL however stretches the season over 20-weeks, utilizing a clever, multiple bye-week format.

[***] The Arena Football League (acquired by AF1) reorganized & resumed operations in 2010...

[****] Full-length games can be viewed on the LFL website in high definition...

[*****] League founder Mitch Mortaza says the league is intended for "mostly beer-drinking college students aged 21 & up..."

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