With UFL Week 6 in the books and the playoff picture becoming clearer. There are several teams on the outs looking in. The Arlington Renegades, Memphis Showboats and Houston Roughnecks could switch to the spoiler role vs playoff chase role real soon.

Being out of the playoff chase could certainly impact ticket sales and attendance numbers for all three teams. For one team, Memphis Showboats, could it be the beginning of the end.

Before we dive into the talk surrounding the franchise for the 2025 season, lets look at the market and its history with Spring Football.

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Memphis Showboats of the USFL From 1984 and 1985

The original Memphis Showboats played in the USFL from 1984 to 1985 at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The stadium has a seating capacity of 58,325. In their inaugural season, the Showboats posted a record of 7-11 and averaged 28,439 fans per game. The following year, they improved to 11-7 and saw an increase in attendance, averaging 30,941 fans per game.

Memphis Mad Dogs of the CFL

The Memphis Mad Dogs played in the Canadian Football League (CFL) during the 1995 season. They called the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium home also. The Mad Dogs, in their lone season, posted a 9-9-0 record. Despite fielding a competitive team, the Mad Dogs had difficulty attracting fans, averaging just 14,550 per game, which was among the lowest in the CFL’s U.S. expansion. Towards the end of the season they were getting less than 10,000 fans.

The team’s owner was founder of FedEx, Fred Smith. More on his importance later.

Memphis Maniax Of the XFL in 2001

In 2001, the Memphis Maniax joined Vince McMahons XFL as an inaugural team and also played their home games at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The Maniax struggled on the field, finishing with a 5-5 record. Attendance was on par for the XFL, with the team averaging 20,217 fans per game. The XFL’s average attendance for the 2001 season was around 23,000 fans per game.

Memphis Express of the AAF in 2019

The Memphis Express was a part of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2019, playing their home games at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium again. The Express compiled a 2-6 record before the league folded midseason. Despite the team’s on-field struggles, they averaged 12,944 fans per game. The Express name, was in part about FedEx and Memphis, but Fred Smith had no part in the league or the team.

Memphis Showboats of the USFL in 2023

The revived Memphis Showboats joined the USFL in 2023, once again calling the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium home. The USFL ‘paused’ the Tampa Bay Bandits in order to add the Showboats. The team finished with a 5-5 record. The USFL did not release attendance figures, in part because for the league, it was low. They also said, at the time, it was not about fans in the stands. Their model also to had two team playing at one of their four hub cities.

The Showboats return to the USFL was from a phone call from Fred Smith to USFL president at the time Brian Woods. He wanted a USFL team in Memphis and got it.

FedEx Fred Smith Connection

Fred Smith has been a key figure in the Memphis football scene as you can see. He also had ties to the NFL as he used to be a minority owner of the Commanders. He was also instrumental in getting the Houston Oilers to play in Memphis before moving to their permanent home in Nashville and becoming the Titans.

Smith has been a vocal supporter of bringing professional football to Memphis and has invested in various football-related ventures in the city. His influence and resources have been crucial in keeping professional football alive in Memphis.

Fred Smith And Liberty Bank Stadium

In 2022 Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium was renamed to Liberty Bank Stadium. In December of 2023 Smith pledged $50 million to kickstart renovations to the stadium. In March of 2024, the project at a total of $220 million, announced its the timeline for the renovation project, spanning from 2024 to 2026. It aims to modernize the stadium and enhance the fan experience.

Games will still be played at the stadium during construction. The venue is home to not only the Memphis Showboats, but the University of Memphis Tigers, Southern Heritage Classic and AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Clearly, Smith’s involvement in this project demonstrates his continued commitment to football in Memphis and his desire to create a suitable home for the Memphis Showboats or a NFL team in his city.

What We Are Hearing

As the USFL continues to explore potential new markets and considers expanding with additional teams for the 2025 season, the survival of the Memphis Showboats largely depends on Fred Smith.

If Smith remains committed to the team and is willing to be one of the first owners in the UFL, the Showboats will likely stay in Memphis. The ultimate decision will not be made by the UFL’s marketing team or upper management, but rather by RedBird Capital Partners, Fox Sports, and Fred Smith himself.

Memphis is rated #50 in TV markets in the United States and is the smallest market in the UFL’s portfolio of teams. The next smallest is Birmingham at #46 followed by San Antonio at #31.

Smith is a gambling man and takes risks. In the early days of FedEx in the 1970’s, Smith faced financial difficulties that threatened the company’s survival. To keep FedEx afloat, Smith took a gamble and flew to Las Vegas with the company’s last $5,000. Reportedly, he played blackjack and won $27,000, which he used to cover the company’s $24,000 fuel bill and keep FedEx operating. The rest is history.

The history of professional football in Memphis has been a gamble with its ups and downs. Teams have struggling to maintain consistent success and strong attendance figures. The Memphis Showboats’ recent decline in attendance raises concerns about the viability of spring football in the city. The team has averaged 7,346 fans per game. The worst in its cities history and the worst in the United Football league.

We have seen both UFL CEO and President Russ Brandon along with President of Football operations Daryl Johnston both on the ground in Memphis trying to drum up interest for the Showboats. Even with the bobble head giveaway this past weekend, it had little impact on drawing fans to the Stadium.

However, the involvement of Fred Smith and his commitment to renovating Liberty Bank Stadium provides hope for the future of the Showboats and football in Memphis. But what about the future of the United Football league?

The city has had two season to get behind the team. Could the league pause until the renovations are complete, and use that an an excuse to close up shop? Tell fans they are returning in 2026? Is Fox Sports going to tell Fred Smith to put up his own money to keep a team in Memphis? The UFL 2024 off season will be real interesting to follow.

What do you think about the future of the Memphis Showboats and spring football in Memphis? Leave a comment and share your thoughts on this topic.

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Mark Perry Editor
Mark Perry, a devoted sports journalist and founder of UFL News Hub, has been a key figure in XFL, USFL and UFL coverage since 2018.

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