Normally, the launch of a new sports league offers myriad collecting possibilities. Normally.
It’s possible that you’re aware that the United States Football League is back, thirty-seven years after the original spring football league collapsed. Maybe you – like me – were one of nearly three million Americans who watched the debut debacle on FOX or NBC. (If so, my condolences.) This USFL, though, is a pale, seriously flawed imitation of the original. The two spring football leagues share nothing more than their name in common. Let’s take a quick look at the bizarre concoction cooked up by FOX, the league’s only major investor (to the tune of $150 million).
The new USFL consists of eight teams bearing the names of eight original USFL franchises – e.g., New Jersey General and Birmingham Stallions. However, the eight teams don’t play in the cities included with their franchise name. No, in a bizarre twist, all forty regular season games will be contested in Birmingham, AL, a college football hotbed. The playoffs and championship game will be played in Canton, OH, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Ironically, the only way any player in the new USFL will reach the Hall of Fame is by paying the admission price.) It is not clear why a team dubbed the “Pittsburgh Maulers” will play all ten of its games in Alabama. Perhaps it makes sense to FOX. It obviously doesn’t make sense in Alabama, where opening weekend games were sparsely attended, being charitable, despite a ticket price of just $10 (and free for kids). Maybe the execs at FOX believe that Pittsburgh really is in Alabama.
The original USFL signed numerous college stars, such as Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, superstar receiver Anthony Carter, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Reggie White, and hotshot quarterback Steve Young (another Hall of Famer). More than eighty USFL players went on to play in the NFL.
Not so the new USFL. Its biggest star is Paxton Lynch. Never heard of him? Well, you’re not alone. Lynch’s claim to fame is that he started four games for the Denver Broncos in 2016-17. That’s it. And he’s supposed to be the league’s best, most well-known player. Suffice it to say, the new USFL, thirty-eight players per team, consists of no-name, never-was and never-will-be players, the dregs of college football and semi-pro leagues. Who wouldn’t want to pay to watch them?
Continuing the new USFL’s bizarre business plan, the eight teams selected to reprise the league are not the original USFL’s best or most popular and successful teams. Instead, cities that didn’t support the first USFL thirty-seven years ago are back, including Pittsburgh (Maulers), Houston (Gamblers), New Orleans (Breakers) and Philadelphia (Stars). Three of those teams moved or folded. In yet another bizarre turn, the USFL’s most successful franchise back in 1983, the Denver Gold, is not part of the new USFL.
So, what is this league all about? Video content for FOX to distribute or use, along with (anticipated) ratings spurred by the booming sports gambling industry. That’s feeble, at best.
I loved the old USFL and was an original season ticket holder of the Denver Gold. I still collect the original USFL today. But this league? There was no groundswell support, unsatiated demand for spring football, or giant hole in sports television schedule during the spring and early summer. No fewer than nine leagues have attempted to compete with the NFL since 1974, including the World Football League, the XFL (twice), and the United Football League. Every single one of them failed, most in one season or less. I applaud and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. But not stupidity. FOX could put its money to better use at food kitchens or building affordable housing. But they haven’t.
What should collectors do about the new USFL? There are two reasons for collecting USFL memorabilia this year:
- You will be getting in on the “ground floor” of a collecting bonanza, as the league grows and matures. False! This league absolutely will not survive.
- After the fledgling league collapses, new USFL collectibles will be relatively rare and soar in value. Highly unlikely. Collectibles from the XFL and Arena Football League are plentiful, and do not command premium prices. Just because something is rare doesn’t mean that it is valued. In other words, limited supply doesn’t beget insatiable demand.
If you want to purchase a cheap keepsake of the new USFL, go ahead. Now is as good a time as any. Buy it to enjoy it, a quirky collectible in the rich tapestry of American sports. Buy it for fun!
If you collect primarily for value or quality, save your money. The new USFL is, and will forever remain at, the very bottom of the collectible ladder. I could name 1,000 better ideas for investing your collecting dollars than the USFL. I wish I had better news for you, but I don’t. R.I.P., new USFL.