Axios was the first to report yesterday that the USFL and XFL 3.0 were in serious negotiations about a merger of equals; the two leagues could possibly combine to form a single professional football Spring League. I have thought for years that there was a market for a “Spring League”, but I am confident that there is not enough room out there for two “Spring Leagues”. A “merger” or a “consolidation” or a “combining of resources” in this situation makes a lot of sense. It also raises a few questions – – for which I do not have definitive answers, but I’ll try:
- Each league has a team in Houston. A combined league – – call it the USXFL for lack of a better name – – would not want two of its franchises carving up a single market despite the size of the Houston market. So, one of those franchises would have to be moved or dissolved. I would suspect that the new league would prefer not to set sail and have one of its first acts to be the dissolution of a franchise. So, where might “the expendable Houston franchise” go? Neither league had a team in southern California or Arizona. Maybe “the expendable Houston franchise” might fit there?
- There has been some ”tension” regarding the venue for the Vegas Vipers of the XFL. They could not get an agreement to play in Allegiant Stadium where the Raiders play; and evidently, the alternate venue was not very good. So, maybe there is another franchise that might need to be relocated?
- Both leagues have TV deals with major networks. FOX has an equity stake in the USFL; Disney Corp via ESPN is the “exclusive broadcast partner” of the XFL. NBC is also involved in all this somehow because it has a “limited broadcast agreement” with the USFL. A combination of the two leagues will necessarily need to figure out who and how their games will be telecast locally and nationally.
- The XFL played its games in the cities the teams represented; the USFL used a “hub model” playing its games mostly in Birmingham AL. If the USFXL is going to be taken seriously, I think it must ditch the “hub model” and play all its games in or very near the city that the team represents.
- The two leagues played in the Spring last year with very little overlap. The XFL kicked off in February – – the week after the Super Bowl. – – and held its championship game in mid-May. The USFL started in mid-April and played its championship game on 1 July. Each league played 10 games in their regular season and had a 4-team playoff format. Assuming the USFXL is a 16-team league, how many games will there be in the regular season and when would they be played? Personally, I think play should start on the “dark Sunday” of Final Four weekend and run through the 4th of July, but no one is consulting with me on such issues.
If all the rumors and reporting are accurate, that would indicate to me that the execs for the league and for the media outlets have resolved at least some if not most of these questions. And as I said above, this is a good thing for “Spring pro football” as a business enterprise.
Switching gears … Back in the days when the only real legal way to bet on sports like football and baseball and basketball was to visit Las Vegas, the two most vocal opponents of legalized betting were Mark Emmert as the head of the NCAA and Roger Goodell as the NFL Commish. The NCAA has maintained its anti-gambling stance and continues to worry about and tries to police gambling on collegiate athletic competitions. I think they are fighting a losing battle, but they are dogged in their defense of the purity of their games.
The NFL – – on the other hand – – wants to re-enact the famous scene from The Wizard of Oz where “The Wizard” declares that no one should pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Given any soapbox to hop upon, Roger Goodell will sanctimoniously proclaim his profound worry about “the integrity of the games” that is severely threatened by easy access to gambling on those games by so many people in so many venues. To hear him tell it, you wonder if he ever gets to sleep at night.
Except … The NFL has three – – as in one, two, THREE – – “Official Sports Betting Partners of the NFL.” Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel are all in multi-year agreements with the NFL and they:
“… will have the right to integrate relevant sports betting content directly into NFL Media properties including NFL.com and the NFL App. DraftKings and FanDuel will enhance their fan experiences with NFL highlights, footage and Next Gen Stats content. Caesars and the NFL will collaborate on integrating NFL content into Caesars platforms as well.”
But wait, there’s more … The Washington Commanders now have an NFL sportsbook inside the stadium at FedEx Field. The area is known as “The Fanatics Sportsbook” and it has betting kiosks along with walk-up betting windows. It is not merely open on game days; The Fanatics Sportsbook is open 7 days a week from 11 in the morning to 11 at night. Interestingly, it took a positive vote by NFL owners to decide to allow in-stadium betting, so The Fanatics Sportsbook is only the first of many more such facilities to come.
So, next time you hear Roger Goodell feigning angst at the peril sports gambling presents to the integrity of NFL games, just remember, gambling is evil – – unless the NFL can find a way to make buck off it.
Finally, former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once said:
“A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy.”
Might I suggest that the NFL is quite similar …?
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………