NFL teams remain interested in signing players from the UFL but they’re scared off by the $150,000 transfer fee the upstart league demands. The UFL put the fee in place to help cover operating costs. They likely didn’t foresee it becoming a controversial issue: it’s common practice in Europe, and NBA teams routinely pay $500,000 for the rights to foreign prospects.The unforeseeable is now the reality. UFL players – 46 per cent of whom have some NFL experience – are finding it difficult to latch on to NFL teams purely because of the transfer fee.
Some believe this will destroy the league. Quality players won’t enroll in a league that hinders their ability to chase NFL dreams. With the ability to transfer freely between the league, UFL players would become more attractive to NFL clubs.
But billionaire league investors, including Tim Armstrong and Mark Cuban, didn’t spend millions to get involved in what essentially amounts to a farm system. No one is making millions off of minor league baseball.
It’s not that the UFL is out to compete with the NFL. Rather, it envisions itself an alternative to the costly experience of attending an NFL game. The league is spread across six teams in non-NFL cities and tickets typically cost about $20. Keeping rosters relatively stable will certainly help the league grow into that viable alternative.
That’s why Mark Cuban, for one, doesn’t just want to keep the transfer fee in place – he wants to increase it to $250,000. He, too, is against the minor league model.
While the UFL decides whether to bow to the demands of the players or its investors, the league’s greatest opportunity comes next season, in the event of an NFL lockout. Before relegating itself to a glorified farm system, the league should see whether football-starved fans flock to their league. When the NFL does return and fans are familiar with UFL talent, the league could sit back and collect transfer fee cash as the NFL vies to regain fan interest.
If that doesn’t work, and the league gets really desperate, it can always fall back on an antitrust lawsuit to combat the NFL’s collusion against the UFL’s industry-standard fee.
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