By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
February 10, 2011: Despite the unresolved CBA situation between owners and players, there will be pro football this year, albeit via the United, not National, Football League.
Owners of the fledgling UFL gave themselves vote of confidence and green-lit the league's third season during a meeting in Las Vegas on Feb. 10. The UFL said it would field five franchises, including the expansion team Virginia Destroyers, which, in effect, is the reincarnated franchise from Orlando that folded due to financial difficulties.
The UFL is funded by a consortium of private investors that includes Bill Hambrecht, the CEO of investment firm W.R. Hambrecht + Co.; Tim Armstrong, chairman and CEO of AOL; Paul Pelosi, president of Financial Leasing Services; and Bill Mayer, senior partner at Park Avenue Equity Partners.
The UFL had planned to go into its third campaign with six teams, which would have been the Virginia franchise. However, according to league commissioner Michael Huyghue, "At this point in time, making a financial commitment to fielding a sixth team would be irresponsible. It is more important that we safeguard the future of the UFL as we continue to seek expansion for future seasons.”
The league is also dealing with other significant challenges, including a lawsuit filed by Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, who was an investor and media partner via his HDNet TV operation. Cuban alleges that the league, and specifically Bill Hambrecht, has failed to repay a $5 million loan.
The UFL's other national broadcast media partner has been Versus, but there was no word from the UFL as to whether that alliance was still in place for 2011. Among the marketing partners listed at the UFL Web site are ConAgra Foods, Progressive Insurance, Riddell, Rotohog Fantasy Sports, Men's Wearhouse, Cutters sports equipment, Zephz athletic footwear and AOL Fanhouse.
The UFL said it would continue to go ahead with plans to begin its season in August and include games on Sunday, whether or not the NFL resolves its CBA situation. A championship game would be played in late October.
“Our intent remains to begin play before the National Football League season begins, and to start incorporating Sundays into our football schedule,” said Huyghue. “I have said before that from a fan’s standpoint, you are going to see a more competitive football game on Sundays in our regular season games, than you would in National Football League preseason games."
Despite numerous financial and logistical challenges, the UFL points to several positive aspects it has brought to the pro football landscape, including a strong response from fans and businesses in Omaha, which was an expansion team last season; and the fact that some players and coaches have gone from the UFL to the NFL. Among the most recent is Jay Gruden, who had been the head coach of the now defunct Orlando Tuskers and was slated to be head coach of the Virginia Destroyers, but departed to become offensive coordinator for the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.
The league’s five teams for 2011 are scheduled to be the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Locomotives, Hartford Colonials, Omaha Nighthawks, Sacramento Mountain Lions and Virginia Destroyers. Each team would play an eight games during a ten-week season comprising of four home and four road games, with two bye weeks. The third annual United Football League Championship Game will be played at a venue to be determined.
"It is more important that we safeguard the future of the UFL as we continue to seek expansion for future seasons.” — Commissioner Huyghue
According to Huyghue, "Despite evaluating markets suitable to host a sixth, and indeed seventh and eighth future expansion teams, we were unable to secure a suitable market in time for the new season. We are retaining the five-team model that we know worked in 2010 and provides entertainment for our fans. At this point in time, making a financial commitment to fielding a sixth team would be irresponsible. It is more important that we safeguard the future of the UFL as we continue to seek expansion for future seasons.”
Other logistics such as player tryouts and draft, mini-camps and potential rule changes were still being finalized.