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U.S. Army paying absurd amount for UFL sponsorship deal, reportedly getting small return

UFL, Army
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The National Football League has had ties to the military for decades, often receiving millions of dollars from the Department of Defense to honor soldiers during the NFL season. It appears the UFL is operating with the same playbook, seemingly at the expense of the U.S. Army.

Before the United Football League kicked off its inaugural season, owner Dwayne “The Rock ” Johnson announced the spring football league was partnering up with the United States Army. As the UFL put it, the purpose was to shine a spotlight on that branch of the military.

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“Leadership. Very cool and honored to announce our @TheUFL partnership with the @USArmy. THANK YOU for your service to our great country and ALL of our American families. The UNITED FOOTBALL LEAGUE & the ARMY will work together on leadership development opportunities, community engagement events and increasing the awareness of the great opportunities the Army and the UFL offer our young leaders and athletes.”

Dwayne Johnson on the United Football League’s partnership with the U.S. Army

However, even doing so with a spring football league comes at a significant cost. According to Steve Beynon of Military.com, the Army is paying approximately $11 million to be the primary military partner of the UFL. In an effort led by Johnson, with the intent of the deal to drive up recruiting, it appears the early returns aren’t looking positive and are also falling in line with concerns some had regarding the sponsorship.

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Benyon reports that the Army originally proposed a $25 million sponsorship deal with the XFL in February 2023, before the league combined with the USFL and spent months preparing for the 2024 season. There were service planners opposed to the original cost, believing it wouldn’t be an efficient use of military spending as the potential returns for recruiting were projected to be minimal. Even at the $11 million, some officials were skeptical it would be worth it.

According to internal documents reviewed by Military.com, the Army estimates that its UFL sponsorship deal will only net between 160 to 891 new recruits.

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Despite being warned repeatedly that it could be a net negative deal for the Army, Gen. Randy George reportedly “pushed” for the deal to happen and through its finalization. Col. Dave Butler, Goerge’s spokesperson, told Military.com that military officials eventually signed off on the proposal, but Butler didn’t provide any documentation to validate that statement.

In paying $11 million to be partnered with the UFL, the Army gets its logo displayed on each player’s jersey and it is put on every field. In addition, the U.S. Army is represented on social media posts and during instant replays by Fox, ESPN and ABC.

“This stunk of old ways of thinking and the Army just wanting to get The Rock in the room and get him in an Army shirt once in a while. I think some people in charge got starstruck, and because of that we blew millions.”

Anonymous military official on the U.S. Army’s $11 million deal with the UFL

Another motivation for the deal seemed to be the Army obtaining Johnson as a “pseudo brand ambassador” for the service, which included “The Rock” making sponsored posts supporting the Army on social media. Even with the celebrity’s support, it appears even the Army doesn’t believe this will be a worthwhile investment to improve recruiting.

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