COLUMN: Pro football in Hartford?
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 21:03
Yes, you read that headline correctly. Professional football is coming back to Hartford again.
A long time ago, there was a professional football league called the USFL. It was a league that “challenged” the NFL from 1983 until demise in 1987. Starting in the spring of 2014, the USFL is back, thanks to the work of CEO Jamie Cuadra.
Cuadra has decided to bring back the league, but this time instead of trying to compete with the NFL, Cuadra wants to work with the NFL to create a minor league for America’s most popular professional sport. Currently the proposed league has eight teams, including one in Connecticut. The Connecticut franchise will most likely set up shop in East Hartford and play their home games at Rentschler Field.
This decision to play professional football in the Nutmeg State puzzles me. Connecticut, in general, is not exactly pro sports-friendly, just ask the Whalers, who left town the first chance they got in 1997. Connecticut is right between two of the largest sports markets in the country, Boston and New York. Why on earth Cuadra would select the Hartford as New England’s entry into this league is beyond my comprehension.
This is not the first time a football league has chosen Hartford as a home. In the 1920s the Hartford Blues played in our state capital when the NFL was in its infancy. And, of course, we all remember the UFL’s Hartford Colonials, who went a meager 3-5 during the only season they played in Connecticut before the league suspended play in 2011.
Professional sports and Connecticut do not mix. While this upstart USFL is pegged as the minor leagues – similar to the now defunct NFL Europe – placing a team in Connecticut is a disastrous move on Cuadra’s part if he wants this league to have any chance at success.
Don’t get me wrong, professional minor league sports can do a lot for a city and are a great destination for families to spend the day together. Some of my best memories as a child were going to see the since-relocated New Haven Ravens at Yale Field. But minor league baseball is a completely different animal than minor league football.
Minor league baseball teams come to an area for a short period of time and then they leave for another city. That’s just the nature of the business. Of course you have exceptions to this phenomenon, like the New Britain Rock Cats, who have played in Connecticut since 1983.
Minor league or semi-professional football leagues have been notorious for lasting only a few seasons, case in point, the XFL. Maybe the new USFL is different and the league will find some sort of success. The USFL plans to place two teams in Texas, which is not a bad idea. Texans will line up to watch any form of football, regardless of the level of competition.
Let’s say for argument’s sake this league does get off the ground and a Connecticut franchise comes to fruition. Will fans make the drive on a hot summer day to the Rent to watch minor league football? It was a struggle this past season to draw fans for UConn football. Granted, this was in part to the dismal performance on the field. But even if a Hartford USFL team produced a winning season, it’s unlikely fans would embrace the team.
Hartford is many things; it’s the insurance capital of the country, one of the oldest cities in America and “New England’s Rising Star,” but major professional sports town, it’s not. Keep the USFL in markets where it has the potential to be somewhat successful and give the league a chance.
Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerRMorrissey