Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nighthawks Will Play in 2011

It was good news for Omaha when the UFL announced that the league would play, albeit with a reduced schedule in 2011. The Omaha Nighthawks caught the attention of sports fans around the area and even attracted some national attention when they sold out all four games last season. We all know the financial problems the league faces; last season, the UFL hemorrhaged money like a Kevin Cosgrove defense hemorrhages yards and points.  So now the league is down to four teams, with Virginia replacing Orlando and Hartford shutting down.

I'm not 100% sure why the UFL chose to go with a 6 game schedule. I understand the desire to have a balanced schedule where each team plays the other home-and-away, but maintaining the eight game schedule keeps the existing ticket plans unchanged and would increase revenue.  Certainly you know that cutting that game likely will cost the Omaha franchise at least $500,000 in ticket sales.  Maybe more.  Yes, it would be unbalanced, but the  UFL is fighting for it's financial survival.

That survival likely will only come with some sort of investment by the NFL. I do think that the UFL adds value to the NFL.  The NFL really is the only major professional sport that doesn't have a minor league system. People like to say that college football is the developmental arm, but so many players struggle making the transition in their early years.  The UFL could fill that need, and likewise help skill players develop faster. Likewise, it's also a source of replacements who are in football shape and ready to contribute when an NFL player is injured.

UFL games could also be of value to the NFL Network, which already televises Arena League games as well as Canadian games. ESPN has long realized that football - any football - is compelling television. That's why you see MAC games on Tuesday nights during the season.  Football brings ratings.  But is that enough to make the UFL financially viable? There's no way to know.

The surest way to ensure the UFL is not financially viable is for Omaha sports fans to turn their backs on the Nighthawks this season. Sure, we don't know if they'll play in 2012...but they will play in 2011.  Poorly attended games will ensure the leagues demise, and conversely, if the Nighthawks draw well in a futile effort to save the UFL, people will remember that. I have to believe that the Arena League would likely target Omaha knowing how the city supported the Nighthawks.

I look forward to the Nighthawks playing this season and plan to attend at least one game this season. Since we don't have a schedule yet, it's hard to say when, but I found it a fun atmosphere last year. And in the new ballpark downtown, it should be even better.

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