By Barry Janoff
October 22, 2012: The United Football League, a fledgling wannabe David trying to make inroads against the Goliath NFL, is cutting short its season for the second consecutive year, again in hopes of rebooting its coffers with the intention of coming back in better shape.
The league said it has ceased play four games into the 2012 season and that it would reschedule for Spring 2013 to finish the remaining four games left on the schedule as well as a championship game. It then would work to start its fifth season in Fall 2013.
“The players and coaches have established a terrific product on the field,” Paul Pelosi, spokesman for the UFL ownership group and owner of the Sacramento Mountain Lions, said in a statement. “Because of a lack of sufficient funds due to the high cost of workmen’s compensation insurance and other elements, we are postponing the second half of the season. We plan to play the balance of the season in the spring, along with the championship game.”
The UFL, which began play in 2009, entered its fourth season and with franchises in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Omaha and Virginia Beach. It was operating without an official league headquarters and without a commissioner, a position held during the first three seasons by Michael Huyghue, a former executive with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
This season appeared to have some promise when it was unveiled that the league had signed a deal with CBS Sports Network for twice-weekly national broadcasts.
Since it's inception, the league has been populated mainly by players who had been cut from or were unable to make NFL rosters, or were veteran players on the short end of their pro careers. Several players went from the UFL to the NFL. Jay Gruden, brother of former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, went from head coach of the UFL's Florida Tuskers (since relocated to Virginia Beach) to his current position as offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.
In addition to Pelosi, who is a businessman and venture capitalist, primary UFL investors include investment banker and IPO specialist Bill Hambrecht and investment banker Bill Mayer. The league has admitted to losing more than $120 million through it first three years of operation.
The move comes at a time when NFL marketing, TV viewership and overall popularity are at an all-time high. It also comes as the backers of the reincarnated United States Football League said they would push back their inaugural season from Spring 2013 to Spring 2014. The original USFL operated from 1983-85.
In 2011, the UFL delayed its season opener by a month after initially planning to fill the gap created by the NFL lockout, which ultimately ended during pre-season. The UFL cut its franchises from five in 2010 to four, then cut its 2011 season short to just four games and a championship.
The league ended the season with three head coaches with substantial NFL experience: Dennis Green (Sacramento Mountain Lions), Jim Fassel (Las Vegas Locomotives) and Marty Schottenheimer (Virginia Destroyers).
According to reports, Green and Schottenheimer have since sued UFL ownership for unpaid wages.
According to Pelosi, the time between now and a targeted Spring restart would enable the UFL to “meet its financial obligations and re-emerge in strong fiscal shape . . . It is our first priority to take care of our players, coaches, and staff and then to raise sufficient funds to take care of our other obligations and to resume fully-financed operations in 2013.”
The UFL has not been releasing attendance figures, but newspapers in each of respective franchise's home city or region have, and the numbers have been anemic, at best. The Daily Press in Virginia Beach reported that the Destroyers game on Oct. 19 drew "a franchise-low announced crowd of 2,817" at the Sportsplex Stadium.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that an Oct. 17 Nighthawks home game against the Locomotives was played "in front of 2,234 at TD Ameritrade Park," which holds 35,000.
At the time of suspension, the Las Vegas Locomotives were 4-0, Omaha Nighthawks 2-2, Virginia Beach Destroyers were 1-3 and the Sacramento Mountain Lions 1-3.
Specific dates for the league’s return have not been released. According to Pelosi, the extra time would allow the league to “meet its financial obligations and re-emerge in strong fiscal shape.”
Earlier this month, the UFL officially confirmed that players had yet to be paid.
"It is our first priority to take care of our players, coaches, and staff and then to raise sufficient funds to take care of our other obligations."
"First of all, it is true. The players have not been paid yet," Pelosi said in a statement released on Oct. 5. "But the reality is they will be paid. We guarantee that they will be paid, and that the coaches will be paid, and we're going to do that very soon.
"Candidly, we've had some challenges," Pelosi stressed. "These teams have been together only two weeks, only one week before that first game, and that was because, frankly, there were significant issues getting workmen's compensation insurance. And we finally got it, but only two weeks ago and the reality, economically is that the cost of it is twice the amount of my payroll for the Sacramento players. It gave us a temporary cash flow problem. We're absolutely committed to paying everybody, and paying them in full. Coaches and players."
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