CHICAGO (Reuters) - The United Football League said on Monday it will kick off play in October with a smaller slate of teams than originally planned due to the U.S. recession.
Four teams will play in seven cities in the inaugural season, short of the six to eight teams the smaller rival of the National Football League had hoped to open with. League executives blamed the economy.
“We’ve all taken a dose of what the economy is today and realized that some contracted form of business with a eye focused toward smaller rather than larger makes a lot more sense,” UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue told Reuters.
“With the dramatic shift in wealth in this country, it just didn’t make sense to go out with the original plans,” he added in a telephone interview.
It is a tough time to start a league; even the NFL, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have been hurt by the recession. Women’s Professional Soccer also plans to start play this year.
UFL investors, who are putting a combined $30 million into the league, include well-known investment banker Bill Hambrecht and Google Inc executive Tim Armstrong, as well as Paul Pelosi, the husband of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Missing from the list is billionaire Mark Cuban, who was originally listed in 2007 as a potential owner. Cuban owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
The UFL is the latest in a series of leagues to compete with the NFL since the 1970s. Its predecessors — the World Football League, the United States Football League and, most recently, the XFL — all failed.
Marc Ganis, president of Chicago sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd, said the UFL had little chance for success given its “trivial” funding and competing with the NFL, college football, baseball and ice hockey for attention.
“The sports landscape is littered with the carcasses of new sports leagues over the last decade and a half,” he said. “Americans are sports fans in large measure because of tradition and continuity.”
UFL officials have vowed not to overspend or set unrealistic expectations — the mistakes of past NFL rivals. Huyghue said the UFL will complement the NFL and not try to compete for top players.
The UFL, which plans average ticket prices of $20, said it was negotiating lease agreements with stadium operators and an agreement to nationally televise one game each week. Games will be played on Thursday and Friday nights.
It said details of the agreements will be announced when they are finalized. Previously it told Reuters it was negotiating with Major League Soccer teams about using their stadiums. Huyghue said the TV deal will be with a well-known national broadcaster.
The UFL’s plans already have been scaled back. Initially, it had hoped to begin play last year with a 12-week season, including playoffs. This year’s season will run seven weeks.
It also originally planned to open with eight teams in markets where the NFL did not have teams. It had planned for each owner to put up $30 million for a half-interest in a team, with the UFL owning the other half.
In May 2008, Huyghue said owners would initially put up $60 million over the first two years and had been told to expect losses of $25 million to $30 million a year for the first three years, with profits to follow. He said on Monday those plans were still in effect for 2010 and beyond following this year’s “soft launch.”
The initial UFL teams include New York/Hartford, Connecticut; Las Vegas/Los Angeles; San Francisco/Sacramento; and Orlando, Florida. Huyghue said the league will expand by at least two to four teams in 2010.
Editing by editing by Brian Moss and John Wallace