Gimmickry was the common thread among the upstart—and failed—pro football leagues of recent decades. The USFL blazed new trails in gaudy uniform design and with a spring-summer schedule. The Arena League (now on hiatus) took the game indoors. The XFL introduced the world to Huddle Cams, scrums for possession instead of coin tosses and a cartoonishly violent game that dispensed with unnecessary roughness penalties and fair catches.
One underutilized marketing approach has been the purveyance of high-quality football, something the United Football League hopes to offer when it debuts in October. The UFL got a credibility boost last week when quarterback J.P. Losman, who started twice for the Bills last year, signed with the Las Vegas franchise. His signing underlines the mission of the UFL: to complement the NFL as a potential feeder league, not compete with it. "Players recognize that in [NFL] backup and low-salary roles there's not much opportunity for a player to underscore his value," says UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue, a former Jaguars senior VP of football operations. "In our league they can get exposure in a way that changes NFL teams' minds."
With clubs in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando and San Francisco, the UFL will play a six-game schedule ending with a Thanksgiving weekend championship. The league plans to add up to four franchises over the next two seasons, hoping $20 average ticket prices and a national TV deal with Versus will generate enough interest and revenue for the league to break even by the third year. But league execs and experts agree that the UFL's fate will be determined primarily by its on-field product. "They'll get a shot," says Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Sports Business Initiative at Penn's Wharton School of Business. "People will take a first look, and if the product is compelling, they might just look again."