by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
For our half-dozen points this week – and considering the drought of NFL action – it seems like a good time to take a look at the United Football League.
More football? Intriguing. You’re reading the words of someone who appreciates Canada’s wide-open-spaces version of the game, as well as Arena ball’s claustrophobic freneticism. (Good news, AFL fans: after having to sit out this winter, they’re trying to refresh for the 2010 season). It’s admirable that a group of businessmen want to start up another moneymaking league not called the NCAAs.
As a matter of full disclosure, I’d love to work as a UFL promoter. Maybe it comes from reading too much about Bill Veeck, but getting in on the ground floor of this thing looks exciting. Sure, it could be the XFL or the USFL, but it could also be minor league baseball: an inexpensive, up-close look at a beloved sport.
With that in mind, six things for the UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue to consider. And yes, I had to double-check that spelling.
Name Your Teams: The league has proposed starting four franchises this fall, yet we have no idea what the team names are and won’t until mid-July. Delaying this could become a huge problem as branding becomes key. In the early 1990s, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars made millions on memorabilia before the teams even hit the field. We’re a sports-nut nation: people enjoy new teams and tend to support their hometown franchises. Heck, if Boston started a WNBA team, you think they wouldn’t sell hats and jerseys?
(I know the perfect name for that hypothetical squad, by the way: The Boston Banshees. As proof that no idea is original, I’ll note that this was also the name of a local cycling club.)
You’ll Thank Me Later: continuing on my naming hot streak, here’s my list of monikers for the proposed UFL team sites through 2010.
Hartford Locomotives – call them the Locos for short
Las Vegas Bats – avoids the tempting-yet-best-left-untouched gambling issue.
Los Angeles Mayas – Mysterious and powerful, with kick-ass graphics.
New York Squid – who messes with a squid? They come out at night and look weird.
Orlando Racerunners – a speedy lizard indigenous to Central Florida.
Sacramento Salmon – the Chinook swim up the Sacramento River annually.
San Francisco Kingfishers – a local bird known for its hunting ability.
Hey, Commissioner Huyghue, take any of these you like. I’ll just put them on my resumé. (A free t-shirt wouldn’t hurt, either.) Keeping with that theme …
Stick With Your Mascots. No matter what they are, eventually they stick with you. If you remember the debut of Wally the Green Monster in 1997, your probably recall cringing. Yes, Wally was better than an actual Red Sox mascot because socks don’t do anything except get dirty, get washed, or get lost. Still, having what resembled a nauseated, morbidly obese Muppet running around Fenway didn’t exactly inspire fan loyalty. Now? He’s beloved. Go figure.
The worst mascot ever was the 1996 Olympic symbol Izzy the Whatizit, which looked like a Saturday morning cartoon character inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. Why is Izzy the worst ever? Lack of commitment. Potential fans looked at that thing and thought, if the people charged with creating this monstrosity couldn’t take the time to figure out what it is, why the heck should I?
Seriously, they should have removed the lightning bolts, changed the shoes, and called it “Georgia the Blue Frog.” Nice and easy. The lesson: most names are kind of dumb anyway, but over time, they tend to grow on fans. Regarding the NFL, you don’t hear anyone asking questions like, “What, exactly, is a Packer?” or “What if Paul Brown’s surname had been Leibowitz?”
Although, you must admit, “the Cleveland Leibowitzes” has a ring to it.
David Beat Goliath: While the UFL has preached catering to underserved markets, their first four site proposals include Las Vegas (cool), Orlando (great), New York (what?) and San Francisco (unh?). Not sure where they’re going with those last two. Yes, the New York franchises actually play in New Jersey, and San Francisco hasn’t been a regular playoff contender since stone-washed jeans, but we’re looking at two of the more rabid fan bases in the NFL. Put in a simpler way, while someone who owns a couple of Niners jerseys may hesitate to plunk down the money for a Kingfishers jersey, a Sacramento native who’s a half-hearted Niners fan would be more likely to spring for a Salmons uniform.
Improve The Website: This has happened over the past few days (serves me right for not posting this column sooner). The league has added video from various tryouts and taped interviews with noteworthy players (ex-Patriot Jermaine Wiggins is a fine example). Still, the UFL should let their designers loose, with the type of video-game graphics that cause psychological damage in lab rats.
I’m also surprised at the lack of in-house media promoting a fan-friendly face for the UFL. A broadcaster commenting on league events would bridge the gap between the league board and the fans. (Again, I’m available: not only do I write about football, I used to work out.) It’s important to see and hear some of the tryout players and coaches in action; it would help to have a media type fill in the blanks.
If You’re Going to Blog, Blog: As of Monday the 15th, Commissioner Huyghue had blogged three times in June, putting him two ahead of the Globe’s Bob Ryan but far behind most bloggers.
Listen, I understand that this “information age” in which we live contains a hell of a lot of useless information. What I’d like is a twice- or thrice-daily accounting of what the commissioner is doing. Again, this might be a job for his assistant or the aforementioned media person: is he in New York? Is he planning a trip to Las Vegas? Has he decided on names for his freaking teams? Make no mistake: the tweeting (twittering, whatever) has been consistent. Maybe he could stick to that and cut out the blogging altogether.
I know I sound critical, but I want the UFL to succeed. It’s fun to take on a new team and get involved in its ups and downs. It’s also difficult to have too much football.
Chris Warner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org