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20 October 2009

If a Redwood falls in the forest...

Reader Mike Headley (a.k.a. LoneStranger) was one of the privileged 6,341 to see the inaugural home game for the UFL's California Redwoods franchise at AT&T Park. Below are his observations of the experience and my feedback (in italics). Enjoy.
Hey ML,

I went to the California Redwoods vs NY Sentinels UFL game at AT&T Park on Saturday, so I was doing a little reading up on the four teams. I noticed that the Florida Tuskers were owned by the Tampa Bay Rays. Could this be a way for them to get more muscle behind their new stadium plans? It would give them more guaranteed home dates, though admittedly just four-six more. The other issue this would bring up, if they do intend the Tuskers to play in the new stadium, is how that would change the design of the stadium. I find it a little weird that a baseball team would want to build a two-sport complex, but perhaps with the lower attendance rates than the NFL, the number of seats up against the field isn’t an issue. The field at AT&T ran along the 3B line and the end zone was right up against the outfield wall. I’m not sure how close it got to the dugouts on the other side. There was nothing on the opposite side of the field, except the fireworks mortars. The main TV camera was on a movable platform between the seats and the field. I didn’t see the game on TV, but I bet it didn’t look good showing the emptiness on the other side of the field. Or maybe it looked better than showing the empty stands.

As far as the Redwoods game went, it was fun. I’ve only ever been to one other football game (49ers vs Cin a couple years ago) and we had sat in the top deck. This game we sat in the lower area near the left field foul pole. While there were only a pitiful 6341 people in attendance (almost half of the next-highest game) it was neat to be able to get close to the field. I’ll probably go to another game in November. Their problem with attendance is probably fixed with better marketing. It seems like no one knows that they even exist. If it doesn’t get better, I wonder if they’d toy with the idea of playing some of their home games in San Jose, perhaps Spartan Stadium. The league wants to expand into Los Angeles next year, so I get the impression that the Redwoods will remain the Northern California franchise.

The Tuskers are meant to play their home games at the old Citrus Bowl in Orlando. They are splitting their home games between Orlando and Tampa. Tropicana Field has occasionally held bowl games so it sort of makes sense. I doubt that scheduling 2 or 3 games per season at the Trop will have any effect on future stadium talks. Having multiple homes is purely about exposure. The field orientation you describe is exactly the same as the one they use for the Emerald Bowl and the one season of the XFL. It sounds like you're saying that they aren't laying down the temporary stands in right field that they usually have for the bowl game. I'll have to check out one of the games later in the season.

I like that they're keeping costs low. They have a broadcast deal with Versus, a network that's always looking for new sports properties. They're even streaming the games live, which is refreshing. If they follow the pre-expansionist Arena Football League business model, they could keep costs manageable and stay afloat for a few years at least. Though I'm not so sure about having a fall schedule. There's just too much competition with ESPN broadcasting major college matchups on Thursday. And locally, there's a good reason why only 6,341 was the reported attendance. With two NFL teams and two major college teams in the Bay Area, we have more football here than any other market in the country. NY has no major [college] team. Chicago has bottom-feeding Northwestern, Notre Dame nearly 100 miles away, and Illinois even further away.

Yes, you are correct; the temporary bleachers were not put up. I agree, the lower cost of the games is what will help them survive. It was evident on Saturday. They didn’t open up the place until an hour before kickoff, the concession stands were only open on the 3B side and even then the non-essentials were closed. There were definitely less usher/security staff on hand. No one had any tickets checked by an usher that I saw. I get the feeling that the NFL is waiting to see how the whole thing goes down. If it fails, there is no financial loss for them. If it ends up successful, they’ve got a ‘minor league proving ground’ that they can either buy into or otherwise sign a deal with to get guys some playing time.
With the recently announced Arena Football 1 league being arranged with the original Arena League's ethos, UFL has a small opening from which it can gain a decent-sized niche audience. My guess is that the Redwoods were charged a minimal 4 or 6-hour facility rental fee for the game, which explains why the gates only opened an hour early.

What do you think? As poor as the initial attendance was, it's not like the NFL and NBA didn't have humble beginnings. Both leagues had to do their share of barnstorming and audience cultivation. Can UFL work?

13 comments:

LeAndre said...

The way I see it is...

NFL attendances are down a bit...

Arena football basically went out of business...

And even though it just started, the Redwoods only drew a little over 6,000 fans...

IMHO, this will be over faster than the XFL

Ezra said...

I don't think UFL attendance alone is important. We need to know what the operating costs are and what the total income is. If the teams are profitable with 6,000 fans, then it will continue. I think the idea of it being a "minor" league to the NFL where NFL teams can loan players or whatnot would be a good way to get it to succeed. But the teams should play in cities where there isn't much competition. I think Las Vegas, Orlando, Hartford, and Los Angeles were good choices for venues, but SF, NY/NJ, and Tampa/St Pete weren't. Other cities like Sacramento, Portland, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, or San Antonio (you know, cities with AAA teams but not MLB teams) might be better as they wouldn't have competition from NFL teams.

That said, I'm not interested in (American) football at all, so I don't plan to ever watch or attend any game.

daveinsm said...

nice quote from George Berkeley btw, I believe he said (while holding a pint of Guinness), "to be is to be perceived"

in the spirit of Berkeley I will say -

If the UFL falls will anyone know about it?

:)

Anonymous said...

What the hell's a Tusker?

Jeffrey said...

toast

Dan said...

I agree with LeAndre. This league is the Utter Fail League. There's no way this league will surive with the drop off in attendance they've already had in week two and the pitiful TV numbers. They're claiming there is a demand for more football, but between the NCAA and NFL I think they've overestimated demand. Particularly since they said their target attendance was 20k. So far league wide they're only averaging 12.

daveinsm said...

what days do they play again? Saturday? Football has a simple schedule

Thursday - College and sometimes Pro
Friday - High School
Saturday - College
Sunday - Pro
Monday - Pro

How can they even compete?! Sue like the USFL???

Brian said...

You'd think this would work better in the spring (though this would probably mean they couldn't play in MLB stadia anymore). With all the college games on different nights and Sunday and Monday night NFL games, they've just reached a critical mass in the fall.

Marine Layer said...

FYI, UFL plays its games on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to prevent direct competition with the established leagues. That right there is probably a factor in reducing attendance because it goes against normally held conventions about football scheduling.

Mike Headley said...

Just saw this article this morning. They're moving two UFL games this year, one of them is the Redwoods' November 14th game and it's moving to Spartan Stadium.

UFL To Play at Hofstra University & San Jose State

Dan said...

That's the second move the UFL has made in as many weeks. They already previously moved the Locos game that was being played in LA at the Home Depot Center back to Vegas. As for the Redwoods move to San Jose, I actually agree with that move and think it's a good idea. San Francisco and Oakland have teams, teams that are firmly entrenched in the local fans minds (particularly the Niners). San Jose on the other hand does not have a pro football team right now and only has the pitful Spartans locally so I'd argue there's less competition in SJ than in SF. Also makes more sense to have the Redwoods playing in SJ in smaller football stadium than SF in the 13,000 seat larger Pac Bell baseball park.

Jeffrey said...

I don't know if moving games is a good sign or a last ditch attempt to stay relevant.

I'd venture to guess it is a last ditch effort to stay relevant.

I would be stunned if in a year the California Redwoods are playing anywhere.

The South Bay has access to Stanford and San Jose State. The East Bay has Cal, outlying areas like Sacramento have Davis and Sac State, further south in the Valley there is Fresno State... All of these areas have reasonable access to the NFL in the Raiders and 49ers...

I think for something like the UFL to take off, they would need to be a developmental league for the NFL and play in places where smaller crowds can sustain a team. Portland, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, maybe Sacramento...

Dan said...

Well I think we'll see the Redwoods playing next year. But it will be a different matter as to WHERE they're playing next year. As you say the Bay Area is pretty well served football wise between the 3 universities and 2 NFL teams. Sacramento might be an option however. I can also see Oakland being an option if the Raiders make it clear this off season they're bolting for Roski's new stadium in LA. Return of the Oakland Invaders maybe?