Saturday, April 07, 2012

UFL Founder: The Nighthawks Will Return to Omaha This Fall

UFL founder Bill Hambrecht told The Las Vegas Review-Journal that the UFL plans to return this fall as a five team league.  Last year's four franchises in Las Vegas, Virginia, Sacramento, and Omaha will be joined by a fifth team...reportedly in San Antonio.  This year's big development is that the UFL is reportedly near a deal with CBS Sports Network to televise games.  Games would be played mid-week beginning in mid-September.

Television money will help the league, both from a visibility perspective and the economics...but is it enough to turn things around? And frankly, did the UFL's problems last season sabotage the Nighthawks franchise? The cancellation of the end of the season rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way, especially their best paying customers.  Some had trouble getting refunds for the tickets, while others were bothered by the clearance pricing on tickets for the final games of the season.

Having the Nighthawks back in town is a good thing, from my perspective.  Pro football is a great thing to have in Omaha, and Omaha loves a good event. But the bloom was definitely off the rose last season in Omaha.  Crowds were way down, and the buzz wasn't there. People got burned, and they'll be wary about how far they'll buy in this fall.

The rumor mill says that the UFL is strongly considering a spring season in 2013.  That might make sense for the UFL, but won't work in Omaha. With Omaha's commitment to baseball and the NCAA for the College World Series, I see no way that the Nighthawks will be allowed to play at TD Ameritrade Park until July.  After the CWS, it's fine...but the field must be in immaculate shape for baseball. If the Nighthawks can't play at the new ballpark, where else could they play?  UNO's Al Caniglia Field probably is available...but crowds would be limited to about 12,000 (including standing room) and beer could not be sold on campus.  After that, it's high school stadiums which are even smaller.

Why worry about 2013?  Having a plan for future years will convince fans that the league has a future and won't fold up shop prematurely again.  From my perspective, the cancellation of the end of last season really damaged the reputation of the league, and merely dismissing former commissioner Michael Huyghue doesn't make it "all better".  The TV deal is a start, but it's just that ... a start.  Midweek games are probably necessary for national television, but a killer for attendance.

With five teams, the league will have to have a staggered schedule .  Play one game nationally on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, and play the other on weekends.  In Omaha, that means avoiding Husker Saturdays.  Play on Sunday afternoon if the game isn't going to be on television anyway.  There are a few fans who'll stay home to watch the NFL on TV, but I have to believe more people will come out on a sunny Sunday afternoon for tailgating and live football than sit inside to watch TV.  Much better than fans racing downtown after work during the week.

Restoring the Omaha franchise will take some work. Former general manager Rick Mueller is now working with the Philadelphia Eagles, and former head coach Joe Moglia is now coaching 1-AA Coastal Carolina.  The whole Moglia experiment was a dismal failure last season, frankly.  Which of these coaches is not like the others?  Schottenheimer, Fassel, Green, Moglia.  It showed in the final results.  The comeback attempt by Eric Crouch also annoyed a lot of people.  Did it lead the Nighthawks to try to run an unorthodox offense? Was it a desperate grab to build attention?  You could make that argument.  More likely, it's just that some people in this area hate Crouch.  Some still cling to the mistaken belief that Bobby Newcombe was a better quarterback, while others point to Crouch's failed NFL career.  He only played one game for the Nighthawks before injuring his knee, but he looked better than Jeremiah Masoli that night.

The UFL is supposed to meet on April 16th to set up the season and make a formal announcement on May 1st. They'll need to have a lot of answers to redeem themselves from the failure of 2011. Obviously, they think they have a chance to save the league...but can they save their most successful franchise off the field?

That's the question that we don't have the answer for.

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