Frank Schmyder investigates… The UKFL

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I started looking at the UKFL in the same way I do with everything: with a blank piece of paper, my pen, a laptop and an open mind.

The first thing I looked at was their opening video on Facebook to get an idea of what’s going on. It boasts an elite, semi-professional league. ‘There are millions of UK fans that want their own league during the summer months with all the entertainment factor and polished broadcast format the NFL provides.’

So far, it sounds promising… The stock footage filled video continues by saying the league will offer season tickets for casual observers all the way up to full team ownership. They briefly show a graphic that I’ll come on to later, offering food, entertainment and accommodation for the fans.

They’ll bring in experienced import players, with medical support, insurance and five star safety equipment. The league will help these players train with top talent providing a platform to showcase their skills.

They’ll provide live coverage and fantasy football, building eight new teams from scratch based on population density. They’re working with hand-picked stadiums to provide catering, bars and fan zones.

This all sounds absolutely incredible to anyone unfamiliar with British American football. This genuinely sounds like the best thing ever, but folk that have either been involved in the league, run a team or remember back as far as 1998 and the demise of the England Monarchs, will feel that these promises are going to be nigh on impossible to deliver.

Now I, Frank, have been around the game for only 15 years, so can’t claim to be the most experienced on the ins and outs of the league, but I have a pretty decent grip on the game and, at the risk of sounding harsh, also on reality…

Quick glance at the people at the top – I don’t know them personally, but after speaking with others that do, they seem to come off well.

Well, mostly…

This is not Mick Tyler’s first, or even second, attempt at a league. You may remember the 2011 version of the UKAFL and the 2018 version, though this is the first without Guy ‘Of course I don’t pay players’ Kersey. On Companies House, he’s the Director of UK American Football Live Ltd with Jonathan Rooney and David Robson, which was previously named UK American Football League Ltd – an attempt at a league that lasted from 27th March 2018 to 8th of January 2019 before he changed it to a streaming service.

Jonathan Rooney – Head of BUCS American Football – I couldn’t find anyone out there who could say a bad word about Coach Rooney whatsoever regarding the work he’s done in the Uni leagues, saying they’re now the most fun leagues out there to watch.

David Robson – Nope, no one knew much about him. Not a bad word to say about him. To be fair, not a good word either, but Facebook shows he’s a Jags fan. As a Jets fan, I understand why he keeps himself to himself.

However…. And it’s a fairly sizable however, some loud alarm bells started sounding as soon as I saw the graphic which flashed up very quickly in the video, so Frank hit the pause button and took a screenshot for your perusal.

We don’t even have to go far down the list either: They claim with just 2,000 fans, clubs should have enough to break even.  Double that, with 4,000 fans, clubs should be making £1,000,000 net profit. One million pounds in the arse pocket of the club owner who will be laughing all the way to the tables of Las Vegas.

Not so fast sports fans… Remember the England Monarchs? Formerly the London Monarchs? Who had to move because they were getting crap attendance? They were getting (according to Wikipedia) 5,944 fans at games and still they went bust… But more on this later.  

The problem being that the table doesn’t explain how much a fan is expected to pay, how often and over what period of time..

It’s not exactly clear who’s paying for what… UKFL say *THEY* will sort medical support, insurance, 5-star equipment for every single player.

Taking 8 NFL size squads of 53 players:

  • Call it £300 per helmet from a UK based supplier, that’s £127,200.
  • Call it £200,000 for kit per year, including the shoulder pads.
  • Based on the current BAFA price of £50 a player for insurance, this is another £6,360 for a policy that pays out around £250 for medical bills for a broken ankle (figure from 2019).  If we’re talking elite athletes, they’d want more than their cab fare there and back a couple of times to the hospital.
  • Then we’re talking the medical cover – I’m guessing it’s going to be more than the usual St John’s ambulance crew who Frank has personally crawled away from at speed rather than have them interfere with a busted knee.
  • And so on.
  • And so on.
  • And so on.

Halton stadium ticks all the right boxes for the UKFL; bar, catering, boxes for VIPs, tailgating etc, etc… With just one side of their stadium open, the stadium is £2,108.65 per game. Call it a conservative 10 game season, 8 teams, £210,865, plus playoffs.

We’re already knocking on for half a million and we’re not even paying anyone yet. Those investors are gonna have to have some pretty deep pockets.

So far, there’s only one external investor announced. Well, Kevin O’Reagan was an external investor. Now he’s the UKFL Programme Director, so they have no external investors as far as we’re aware.

Back to the earlier example of the London/England Monarchs, if you don’t remember what happened there, fan attendance dropped and the team had to fold soon after. The worry is that this will happen again to the 8 new teams that don’t even exist yet.  Could they end up in a much smaller, pointless league or competing in the brand new ELF league, making for a rehashed NFL Europe, though with Brexit, this could be ever so slightly problematic…

“Can we play?”

“F**k off.”

For anyone that remembers early South Park, it doesn’t half smack of the underpants gnomes’ method of making money:

Now, the properly painful bit for fun time Frankie is how this will absolutely destroy the current amateur league in Britain.

“Eight brand new teams based on population density”

So, (thanks Wikipedia) you’ve got to expect at least two in London then Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool and of course there’s going to be one in the North East, that being where Mick is based.

So, all you premiership teams that are proud to be the best in your areas; all you Warriors, Blitz, Titans, Phoenix, Bobcats, Tigers, Nighthawks, Vikings, the UKFL is gonna park a big ass bus in your back yard and throw money at it rather than you. If you struggled for sponsorship before? Forget about it. Any fans you’ve had? Why would they bother with amateur when there’s a professional team on your doorstep? All your best players – they’ll all be disappearing to chase professional contracts all round the UK.

The BAFA Premiership final will be a watered down affair and no longer the showcase of American Football in the UK. It’d be like the FA Vase vs the FA Cup. (By the way, big congratulations to Warrington Rylands on beating Binfield 3-2 to win the 2021 final…) With the only players keen to stick around being those that are happy to play social Sunday league football.

Even if you’re a club like the London Warriors and knocking on for professional level of play, the UKFL are creating 8 new teams and you won’t get a look in. Soz.

In conclusion, I’ve heard of some pie in the sky schemes, but this has to be right up there. Unless you have 8 multimillionaires in the 8 different locations that want to pump money into the league because they’re hardcore American Football fans and rather than flying their private jet over to the States, they want it in their back garden, this smells very much like ‘Prestige Worldwide’ from the movie Step Brothers. If you can’t remember that one, it featured Will Ferrell and John C Reilly using stock footage and talking about profits with absolutely no facts to back it up with the tagline, “Investors… Possibly You….?”

However, should this actually come off, should it actually happen, it’ll be the end of top tier football as we know it. “Yay! I’ve worked my arse off for all preseason, gone to every Tuesday and Thursday night session as well as 4 hours on Sundays and we’ve won the BAFA Prem final… In front of absolutely no one and for absolutely no money…”

Oh and Mick & Jonathan, do us all a favour and in your next video, figure out what you want to do with your hands. I appreciate it’s hard work to gesticulate and deliver your lines, but if you’re not sure, put them in your pockets or something.

Big loves, Frank.

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