A Memphis Showboats UFL touchdown with a prominent U.S. Army patch. Showboats’ Daewood Davis (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the UFL game between the San Antonio Brahmas and Memphis Showboats in Simmons Liberty Bank Stadium in Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium in Memphis, Tenn., on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

It’s far from clear what the long-term future is for the United Football League. That spring football league, formed this offseason as a merger of the USFL and XFL, has produced only marginal ratings and lots of criticism to date. And, around that, Military.com published an interesting piece from Steve Beynon Friday on the UFL’s $11-million sponsorship deal with the U.S. Army (including the shoulder sponsorship patches seen above). There, Beynon outlines that there were many internal critics of the deal (which was initially proposed just with the XFL before last fall’s merger) before the Army signed it:

Recently retired Maj. Gen. Alex Fink, the chief of the Army’s marketing arm at the time, warned in March 2023 that the XFL had little meaningful presence online and relatively low social media engagement, according to a memo obtained by Military.com.

“These posts do not demonstrate interest or excitement from our prospect audience or influencers,” Fink noted in the memo. “Less than [1,500] posts fall within the 18-35 age range.”

Ignatios Mavridis, the deputy chief for Army marketing, warned in August that XFL ratings were underperforming and that he didn’t anticipate much increase in interest down the road, according to an internal memo. He said money being spent there would be redundant, given the Army’s more careful ad placement in the NFL and other higher-profile sporting events.

“The XFL provides minimal unique market coverage not already supported by the Army’s current media plan,” Mavridis said in the memo. He recommended the Army not pursue any major relationship with the league.

“Limit any partnership activities with the XFL to the local level,” he noted, meaning it should just be an environment in which recruiters are present to talk to attendees.

Beynon’s piece also indicates that this came to pass thanks in part to Army chief of staff Randy George. And a lot of this appears to be about the potential of a partnership with former XFL co-owner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who still has a significant equity stake in the merged UFL. Given Johnson’s social media followings, a post from him endorsing the Army might be far more valuable than any level of in-game sponsorship. But it’s far from clear if Johnson has any level of obligation to promote the Army.

Overall, there’s not necessarily a “gotcha” here. It’s of course reasonable for different officials within a body to have varying views on the value of a sponsorship. And that doesn’t mean the eventual decision was necessarily a bad idea (and it may very much prove not to be bad if they do get endorsements from Johnson). But it is interesting to see these internal discussions questioning the value of the UFL, especially around lackluster initial ratings for that league and questioning of its future. We’ll see where things go from here.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.