ABL vs. USFL: Keeping the Game Alive

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In America, today, the people want to see sports on tv. The growing love of watching professional started long ago. But in the early 80’s it began to grow even more with the development of television. People could watch teams from across the nation. With ESPN growing as America’s flagship for sports entertainment, people wanted more. An antiques dealer from New Orleans by the name of David Dixon wanted to start an off season football league to be played in the spring and summer. He developed the United States Football League (USFL). In 1960 Dixon envisioned a spring and summer football league. FOr the next 15 years he prepared to make this happen. He studied the likes of leagues like the NFL, AFL, and World Football League. Dixon also formed a blueprint for the prospective league’s operations, which included early television exposure, heavy promotion in home markets, and owners willing to absorb years of losses,which he felt would be inevitable until the league found its feet in the market. Dixon then signed up 12 cities that would be host to the teams. 9 of those cities already had an NFL team in their respected city. Dixon set up million dollar television contracts with ABC and ESPN. USFL also had their own version of Monday Night Football. The USFL experienced problems in early years like most pro startup leagues. The league dealt with franchise instability, relocation, and closures. Another problem was trying to grow too quickly the league increased from 12 to 18 teams in the first two years. After financial problems the league declared CHapter 11 bankruptcy. When the league folded it lost over $163 million dollars.

The American Basketball League was a women’s basketball league that developed in 1996. It was formed after the growing interest of women’s basketball after the USA’s undefeated gold medal run in the ’96 summer games. The WNBA was being introduced to the public at the same time as the ABL. This led to conflicts with exposure and showed the lack of funds from the ABL. The ABL’s biggest problem was operating as a single entity structure. This made it so all major decisions and and operations were made out of the headquarters in Palo Alto, California. This didn’t help local markets who were trying to gorw and expand. The ABL could not keep up with the financial resources that the WNBA had and the league folded after 2 and 1/4 seasons.

The National Women’s Soccer League or the NWSL can learn some key points in trying to stay afloat from the USFL and ABL. One of the main things they can learn is trying not to expand too quickly until the nation has grasped the league and can hold attention. They should not try to compete with similar markets such as MLS. The biggest thing they need to overcome is how they’ll market the league. Their main target market should be girls between the ages of 7-19. This way they can get their attention early on and keep their attention for the rest of their life. You gotta start at the bottom.


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