Winners and Losers Of The Inaugural UFL Season

Now that the UFL League Championship Trophy has been awarded to the Birmingham Stallions, it’s time to take stock of the winners and losers of this inaugural season.

Winners and Losers Of The Inaugural UFL Season

Hit Or Miss?

When the season opened on March 30th with the highly anticipated game between the XFL Champions Arlington Renegades and the USFL Champions Birmingham Stallions, it was hard to predict how fans would react. Would fans embrace the new league, fill stadiums, and watch the games on TV? Would the standard of play measure up to the fan’s expectations? How would the “new” league rules be perceived?

Winner-TV Ratings:

As expected, the Birmingham Stallions and the Arlington Renegades game drew the weekend’s highest TV ratings with close to two million viewers for Fox Sports. The well-publicized clash between the Champions of their respective USFL / XFL leagues featured several familiar returning players including the Renegades quarterback, Luis Perez, the MVP of the Championship Game, and Stallions tight end, Jace Sternberger.

Later that weekend, 1.34 million viewers watched the Michigan Panthers defeat the St. Louis Battlehawks with a thrilling last-second 64-yard field goal by their superstar young kicker, Jake Bates. The field goal was ranked the second-longest in history, surpassed only by the NFL Baltimore Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker.

Although the opening weekend ratings were strong, would the early fan interest be sustainable? That question was answered when millions of fans tuned in each week. All season long, weekly ratings averaged 816,000 viewers across FOX, ABC, and ESPN. Even more promising, the UFL ratings reflected a significant increase over the average USFL and XFL ratings from a year ago. To put it into perspective, last year’s XFL games drew an average of 622,000 viewers throughout the season while the USFL ratings averaged a bit lower at 601,000.

Winner: St. Louis Fans -The Dome At America’s Center
Loser: All Other Venues

Unfortunately, stadium attendance in locations other than St. Louis and the dedicated fans at The Dome At Americas Center didn’t match the high TV ratings. Week after week, as the St. Louis Battlehawks fans showed up faithfully to “Kaw” and support their team, other venues languished under the pall of mostly empty seats. UFL Executive VP of Football Operations Daryl Johnston says there wasn’t sufficient time before the season to properly market the games and sell advance tickets. Unfortunately, playing in empty stadiums was a genuine loss for the hardworking athletes and team personnel.

Winner: Standard Of Play

The league’s goal was to create a faster-paced, more exciting, and competitive game. In doing so, a new standard of excellence began to emerge. Throughout the season, come-from-behind upsets became the norm as games were won within the closing seconds. In week ten, three of the four games played were decided by a single point. Even as the offense continued to set a new standard of excellence with 80-yard touchdowns and spectacular one-handed receptions, outstanding defensive plays frequently determined the outcome of a game.  

The San Antonio Brahmas team defense, led by Tavante Beckett and Jordan Mosley, shut down the best offense in the league. The Michigan Panthers’ team defense had a total of four players named to the All-UFL Team. At the beginning of the season, neither team was expected to make a run for the Championship, and yet their superior defense made all the difference.      

Winner: Individual Standout Players

In merging the leagues, only the best players were selected and the standard of play far surpassed what we saw in previous spring football leagues. When the most skilled players compete, it improves the caliber of the game across the board and the performance of individual players becomes noticeable. An increased level of athleticism, intensity, and competitiveness began to unfold as week after week, talented individuals began to distinguish themselves on the playing field.  

Adrian Martinez: (Birmingham Stallions quarterback, ALL-UFL Team QB, League MVP, and UFL Championship Game MVP) Regular season: 1,749 passing yards with 15 touchdowns, 528 yards rushing on 54 carries with three touchdowns

Luis Perez: (Arlington Renegades quarterback) 2,309 passing yards with 18 touchdowns

Chris Rowland: (D.C. Defenders wide receiver and special teams, All-UFL Team Return Specialist) 84-yard touchdown return

Hakeem Butler-(St. Louis Battlehawks wide receiver, All-UFL Team Wide Receiver) 652 receiving yards on 45 catches with five touchdowns including an 80-yard touchdown.

Jake Bates, (Michigan Panthers kicker, ALL-UFL team kicker) multiple kicks over 60 yards

Andre Szymt (St. Louis Battlehawks kicker) 61-yard field goal

J.J. Molsen (Houston Roughnecks kicker)  62-yard field goal

Winner: Individual Players Signed To/Meeting With  NFL Teams

According to the Pro Football Network, following the conclusion of last week’s divisional round playoffs, multiple UFL players were contacted by UFL teams.

Daewood Davis (Memphis Showboats wide receiver, All-UFL Team wide receiver) signing with the Carolina Panthers.

Jake Bates (Michigan Panthers kicker, ALL-UFL Team kicker) signing with the Detroit Lions

Ramiz Ahmed (Birmingham Stallions kicker) signed by Washington Commanders

Hakeem Butler (St. Louis Battlehawks wide receiver,  ALL-UFL Team wide receiver) visiting the Carolina Panthers

Jacob Saylors (St. Louis Battlehawks running back, ALL-UFL Team running back) visiting the New York Giants  

Winner: Technological Advances

The UFL implemented several technological advances this season to make the games more interesting and accessible to the fans.  Through the use of audio and video technology incorporating parabolic mics, helmet cams, and drones, the league brought the fans directly onto the playing field. It was a brilliant move. Suddenly fans could watch and “listen in” while coaches reacted to successful plays, discussed strategies with their quarterback, and offensive coordinators issued heavily disguised play calls during the game. 

Another big improvement the UFL adopted is the ability to use 4k Tru Line technology to spot the ball. Taking full advantage of available technological resources, human error was removed in favor of 4K optical tracking cameras. With six cameras located throughout each stadium, the spot of the ball can now be accurately measured in real-time to eliminate any subjective mistakes. 

Finally, one of the best changes the UFL instituted is full officiating transparency. Fans are afforded a birds-eye view of the penalties as they are confirmed in the Sky Box by the VPs of Officiating, Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira.  With Blandino and Pereira watching from above and carefully reviewing the play itself in slow-motion capture and explaining their rationale step by step, there is a sense that the officiating errors so common in the NFL have been eliminated.

Loser: ESPN

One of the biggest losers this season was ESPN.  The cable network effectively cannibalized ratings by offering “split regional coverage” in several of the games. This limited the viewing audience only to local areas. Did it not occur to ESPN that fans outside their regional coverage area might want to watch the other UFL games?
Another big miss for ESPN was not offering a Fantasy platform.  There’s no better way to engage loyal football fans than through Fantasy and since ESPN’s NFL Fantasy platform is one of the best, it would have been a natural fit. Instead, ESPN’s loss becomes Underdog Fantasy’s win since they have been designated as the UFL Fantasy partner going forward.    

Loser: Late To The Party Football Fans 

For those football fans who dismissed the UFL without ever checking out a game simply because it wasn’t the NFL, well, that’s their loss. The same can be said for others who failed to fill the stadium seats or tune in to watch the games.

Winner: The UFL

Instead of simply extending the season to give football fans something to cheer about in the off-season, the UFL found a way to improve the game with innovative rule changes, technological advances, and impressive talent.  Hopefully, the NFL is taking note and learning from the success of this inaugural UFL season.   
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