TicketManager | UFL Partnership Could Signal Return to Spending from Army, Other Military Branches

Necessity is the mother of many things and the U.S. armed forces need to boost their enlistment numbers. That situation could see them increase sponsorship activity to levels close to what they spent in the first decade of this century.

In a joint announcement over the weekend, the U.S. Army and the United Football League unveiled that the largest U.S. military branch would be the league’s presenting partner for its just-underway inaugural season. It is the Army’s first new major partnership in years.

More deals may follow as the armed forces seek to stem the tide of falling recruitment numbers. The military fell more than 41,000 people short of its fiscal 2023 enlisted recruiting goal. Only the Space Force and Marine Corps, the Pentagon’s smallest branches, met their goals for the year ending September 30. The Department of Defense termed it “the toughest recruitment year for the military services since the inception of the all-volunteer force.”

The military cites numerous factors for the shortfall, including historically low unemployment and rules regarding THC use and tattoos. More significantly, only nine percent of 17-to-24-year-olds who are eligible to serve show an interest in being in the military, the lowest since the height of the Iraq War in 2007, according to the DoD, and there is much less familiarity with the military. In 1995, 40 percent of Americans had a parent who served compared to less than 13 percent currently.

Sports partnerships have helped military marketing and recruiting in the past. At its height, U.S. armed forces spending on sponsorship reached about $100 million in 2008. Multiple performance evaluations demonstrated that the various branches achieved multiple objectives, including generating qualified recruiting leads on site at events and venues, connecting with parents, teachers, coaches and others who influence teen and young-adult career paths, and boosting morale among people already in uniform.

But despite that success, economic and political forces combined to cut military sponsorship spending in half over the five years from 2008 to 2013 and those numbers have continued to decline since. The military’s most noteworthy partnerships prior to the UFL announcement were the Air Force’s primary sponsorship of 23XI Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series entry driven by Bubba Wallace for “several races” this season, and the Army’s title sponsorship of the U.S. Army Bowl high school football showcase.

With benefits including gameday jersey patches and the Army logo on the 50-yard line at all UFL games—not to mention leadership development initiatives, community engagement events, and integration with the broadcast and digital platforms of UFL partners, including Fox Sports and ABC/ESPN, the new deal could be a tipping point to more military investments in relevant ways to reach its target audience.