About half of my career has been spent working in athletics, so the story of a start-up league is interesting to me. In this case the story is about the USFL, which appeared and disappeared in the mid-1980's. Its' goal was to create a spring football season, much like you've seen organizations like the Alliance Football League and the XFL do. Personally, I thought the USFL did the best job, but it was greed and stupidity that did in the USFL essentially after a short run.
You see many well known football names pop up throughout the book including NFL legends Reggie White, Steve Young, Hershal Walker, Doug Flutie and a host of others. The league didn't lack in star power and definitely made the NFL omit a few beads of sweat throughout its existence. In fact, the league was probably more watchable than the NFL's three yard and a cloud of dust era.
The goal of the league was to slowly grow each and every year, but a couple of new owners in year two pushed the league beyond its breaking point. The most notable of the owners being Donald Trump and his New York franchise. Much like his current presidential tenure he hasn't made many friends and largely has been all talk. The same held true in the USFL example.
If you love business, football and drama this is the book for you. There are all kinds of crazy ideas and promotions that were thrown out throughout the league's history. I believe the author, Jeff Pearlman, did a wonderful job of putting together a book that is packed full of great stories in a cohesive and historical text.
What Did I Learn?
1. I've always been told that your goal in year one for any event or business is to break even. The USFL owners did a pretty good job of hitting that benchmark. They kept goals realistic out of the gate.
2. The goal of the owners was not to compete with the NFL, because they knew there just wasn't room between college football and the NFL. They wanted to compete more so with early season baseball, but knew there was still plenty of audience to go around. This was a good plan, but Donald Trump bullied several of the owners into moving the league to the fall too early in the league's history.
3. The USFL threw a lot of darts against the wall to see what worked. What I mean by that is in the form of promotions and also locations of franchises. What was good out of this was that they found some fan bases that turned out to be very positive, particularly down in Florida. The downside is that they expanded too fast.
4. What I found comical was that to meet with Donald Trump you had to sit in his lobby and watch a promotional video for how great he was before he would let you in his office. Talk about a narcissist!
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.