At a press conference scheduled for Thursday morning, Omaha city officials will announce that a UFL franchise will begin play this fall, most likely at Rosenblatt Stadium this season and moving to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011. The UFL is an upstart professional football league that plays in the fall and is trying to become a developmental league for the NFL. In fact, ProFootballTalk reported last month that the NFL and the UFL were working on a formal agreement.
Last year, most UFL games were played on Thursday nights, with many televised on Versus and HDNet. This year, the plan is to play them on Fridays and Saturdays with a 10 game schedule with 6 teams. The current UFL franchises are Orlando, Sacramento, Las Vegas, and Hartford. Omaha will be the fifth, and the sixth will likely be Salt Lake City, Austin, or San Antonio.
Good news for Omaha? Most definitely. There is a small amount of prestige in being grouped in with the likes of Orlando, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio. It fills five dates at the new downtown stadium.
But will it work in Omaha? I've long felt that Arena Football would work in Omaha...but that league folded. This might be better, especially if they get an agreement with the NFL. Entice some former Huskers to play on the local team (Cory Ross was the leading rusher in the UFL last season for Sacramento.), and you've got an instant draw. With one caveat.
Around these parts, Husker football is king. If the UFL tries to schedule a game in Omaha on a Saturday and the Huskers are playing that day, forget about it. Friday night, as has been proposed? Maybe, but the Friday night sports lineup in Omaha is busy in the fall. High school football in September and October. UNO hockey starts up in October. And in November, it's going to be tough to get large crowds to sit outside at night in the cold. My suggestion? Play the games in Omaha on Sunday afternoons. Better weather encourages fans and especially families to come. No conflicts locally. Yes, some NFL fans may stay home to watch games on TV, but we're 200 miles from Kansas City, 400 from Minneapolis, and 500 from Denver and Chicago. Omaha loves football, but doesn't necessarily love an NFL team. This season, two Husker bye weeks in early October create a nice little opening for the UFL locally to try a Saturday game if they want to take a chance. In markets like Sacramento with proximity to the Raiders and 49ers, Sunday afternoons would be suicide. But in Omaha, Sunday afternoons are the best option.
Ticket prices for the Las Vegas franchise seem reasonable, with season tickets ranging from $60 to $120 for a five game schedule. $12 to $24 a game for five games sounds like a good deal to me. Could it work? The devil is in the details, but I think it's got a chance here. I think it's a win-win situation for Omaha; it adds entertainment to Omaha, adds a little positive PR for the city, and it fills more dates at the new ballpark.
Speaking of ballparks, cost overruns for the BFE Ballpark have forced Sarpy County to shift the remaining legal work for the Sarpy County Boondoggle to the county attorney's office. Kermit Brashear's firm originally estimated that his fees would top out at around $500,000, but the bill has now reached just shy of $1 million. Meanwhile, the county still doesn't have a finalized deal with Weitz Company, who's building the stadium, and doesn't have an agreement for naming rights. And, of course, there's that little issue of not having a plan to pay for it. Details, details. But hey, I'm told that the stadium is going to look nice with the skyline of Omaha off in the distance. (Still a local call!)