By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
January 18, 2011: On Nov. 27, the United Football League held its second annual championship game, between the Las Vegas Locos and Florida Tuskers at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. The game was telecast on Versus, and marketing partners included Cox Wireless, ConAgra, Ford, Progressive Insurance, Men’s Wearhouse, AOL Fanhouse and the U.S. Air Force. The league came out of the game with high expectations and a strategy that anticipated the third season to come.
Since then, the UFL has ceased its Orlando-based Tuskers franchise operation and moved the franchise — including head coach Jay Gruden and signed roster players — to Norfolk, where the team is scheduled to operate this season as the previously expansion Virginia Destroyers. The team is not expected to include Brian Bollinger, an NFL veteran who was quarterback of the Tuskers for two seasons, but who said this week that he plans to retire.
In addition, Mark Cuban, who has been an investor and a media partner of the league via his HDNet TV operation, sued UFL founder William Hambrecht in Federal Court, claiming Hambrecht failed to repay a $5 million loan.
Several players who were on UFL rosters in 2010 found their way to NFL teams at the end of the season, including UFL Defensive player of the year Isaiah Trufant and Emanuel Cook, both defensive backs who are headed to the AFC title game with the New York Jets. But heading into 2011, the UFL might be no better off than a year ago, when two of the league's original four franchises were relocated. The fifth was the expansion Omaha Nighthawks, which, in reality, proved to be a smart move with good attendance and marketing support.
Looking ahead to what could be a collective bargaining agreement-related lockout/delay/shutdown of the NFL season, UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue recently said the league would open its 2011 campaign on Aug. 5, would expand from an eight- to a ten-game season, would play games for the first time on the usually NFL-owned Sunday and would seek to field six franchises, one more than in 2010.
Under fire, Commissioner Huyghue felt compelled to respond both to critics and supporters who were openly and otherwise questioning the UFL's ability to make it to a third season. "The UFL was established to bring high-quality entertainment to markets that do not currently have professional football teams," the commissioner said in a open letter on Jan. 14. "We have succeeded in doing so."
According to Huyghue, to date, the "owners of the UFL have invested more than $100 million dollars to launch this league — notwithstanding the incredibly tough economic times and without request for a single dime from any local municipality. Last week at our Board Meeting the owners agreed to fund 2011 because they believe in the UFL and they believe in the progress that we have made.
"The UFL has provided jobs for almost 500 players over the last two years who might not have otherwise had employment opportunities in professional football, at a cost of more than $25 million dollars in salary. Almost 100 of these players found jobs with NFL clubs as a direct result of their participation in the UFL. The NFL does not have a financial interest in the UFL, yet has benefited from, in most cases, free access to these players," the commissioner continued.
"In excess of 500,000 fans have attended UFL games during the past two years at an average cost of less than $20 per person, and for many of them it was their first opportunity to see professional football in person. More than four million viewers have watched UFL games on television or through web streaming and on YouTube."
The commissioner pointed out that during its first two seasons, the UFL has "provided affordable family entertainment at a time when our economy has otherwise taken away such opportunities. We have created jobs in local communities that did not previously exist. The UFL has had an impact of more than $10 million dollars per year in each of its franchise cities. In many cases, venues that were otherwise dormant have enjoyed revenue from UFL events."
"The NFL does not have a financial interest in the UFL, yet has benefited from, in most cases, free access to these players."
Given the current economic climate, Huyghue offered, "The reality is that most new businesses experience similar financial hardships. We may even see a lockout by the NFL next season because of increased expenses their teams’ owners are incurring. We are focused on continuing to build and grow the UFL on our terms, with a view towards delivering on our promises to our fans – including to play great football."
The commissioner concluded that the UFL "will catch up on our bills and resolve any issues with our business partners in due course. I hope people will be rooting for the United Football League not against it. If we win everyone wins – players, fans, communities and owners."
UFL Kicks NFL In The CBA As Sophomore Circuit Ups The Football Ante For 2011