Sure, the WLAF is a hit in Europe, but here are 10 things about the league that somebody had better fix—and fast.
1. THE TV RATINGS
On the last week of the World League's regular season, ABC's rating for a Saturday game between Birmingham and Raleigh-Durham was 1.4. You can get a higher number than that just by counting the people who accidentally leave their Sylvania on while showering. With all due respect, nobody outside eastern North Carolina gives a used lotto ticket about how Raleigh does or how Durham does, not to mention Raleigh-Durham. There is an old saying in the ratings game: When in doubt, go to where the television sets are. Get a team in Los Angeles, for crying out loud. While USA Network has three years left on its contract with the World League, ABC has only one year remaining on its commitment to the new league, and if the network bolts, who do you think is going to pay for this league, King Juan Carlos?
2. SUIT UP SOMEBODY WE KNOW
The league MVP was (drum-roll, please) Stan Gelbaugh. No, not a Phoenix orthodontist, but the London Monarchs' quarterback. He played great, but guys like that aren't going to tear people away from cleaning out their rain gutters. Have each NFL team send a few roster players each year. You can't do it legally, but if, say, Dan Reeves suggests it in just the right way, guys will line up to volunteer. The U.S. fans would get a built-in homeboy to watch.
3. BUY A CALENDAR
London, with the league's best regular-season record (9-1) and largest following (average home crowd: 40,481), was supposed to play at home in its semifinal playoff against New York-New Jersey, but the Monarchs couldn't use Wembley Stadium because soccer matches that had been scheduled months before had first dibs. So the Monarchs flew to New York to play the first home game in history staged five time zones away. A sure crowd of 55,000 in London was turned into one of 23,149 in East Rutherford, N.J.
4. WHAT GENIUS DECIDED TO GO WITH USA NETWORK?
USA has done an excellent job covering the games—the helmetcam, the miked coaches and players, the strong color commentators—but hard-core fans, which this league requires, do not watch USA. The ratings plunged below 1.0 for eight of the last 15 games USA carried. Besides, when do you plug your upcoming games, during reruns of Murder, She Wrote!
5. NEXT YEAR, BE READY TO PLAY
The league was still drafting players on Feb. 28 and started its season on March 23. American fans seemed interested enough to give the WLAF a look—ABC's ratings for the first three weeks were 2.6, 2.7 and 2.4, respectively—but the games were so mangled that they didn't deserve a second look. When one game had 11 turnovers and on five occasions early on a team gave up 10 or more sacks, My Favorite Martian reruns started looking pretty good. By the fourth week, ABC's rating had sunk to 1.7.
6. ENOUGH WITH THE SWEARING
More blue language came over hot WLAF mikes than in a month of HBO. Fine 'em $500 every four letters. To these guys, $500 really means something.
7. NO TEAM IN THE MIDWEST?
You're right—nobody likes football in Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver or St. Louis. Get with it.
8. BACK OFF
The league is not yet six months old and it's overexposed. If you had wanted to watch a WLAF game on Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Monday night, you could have done so in each of four weeks. You would have been considered a very sick person, but you could have done it.
9. TWO EUROPEAN TEAMS IN THE BIG GAME?
America had to love that. Hey, Morty, let's get everybody together over at my house with a bunch of Cheez-its and beers and watch Barcelona and London in the World Bowl.... Morty? Set up the playoffs so that an intercontinental matchup is guaranteed in the championship game.