SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A planned competitor to the National Football League has identified the eight markets it would like to open with next year, and hopes to unveil some of its West Coast teams in the next month.
“I think we’re going to have an announcement, probably next month, relative to the first three or four (teams) on the West Coast,” United Football League Commissioner Michael Huyghue told Reuters on Thursday. “Once we do that, you’ll know more about where we stand with respect to the rest of them.”
The UFL, with initial funding from investment banker Bill Hambrecht and Google Inc executive Tim Armstrong, said in May 2007 it would begin play with eight teams in August 2008. However, it postponed the launch to 2009 to allow more time to attract owner-investors, negotiate a TV broadcast deal and build league branding, Huyghue said in an interview at the Sports Lawyers Association conference in San Francisco.
The UFL would be the latest in a series of leagues to compete with the NFL since the 1970s, including the World Football League, the United States Football League and most recently the XFL — all of which failed.
Billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas team, is among the owners, and Hambrecht, the San Francisco area-based founder of WR Hambrecht + Co, may join him, Huyghue said.
Huyghue, a former executive at several NFL teams, declined to reveal other owner names, but said “they’re well known, very financially strong people who either have some (ownership) interest in soccer or football or baseball primarily.”
He said each owner would put up at least $60 million initially, and they have been told to expect losses of $25 million to $30 million a year for the first three years. Profits would follow somewhere in the third to fifth years.
The league will run from August to just after Thanksgiving on Thursday and Friday nights. The plan is to begin with eight teams — although it may start with six — in markets not served by the NFL, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
On top of those two, Huyghue said markets would also likely include San Francisco and Salt Lake City, Utah, based on feedback from fans signing up to reserve tickets. Orlando, Florida, was a strong East Coast contender, while San Antonio, Texas, appeals to the Hispanic fans that the UFL plans to court aggressively, he added.
While Huyghue said no stadium deals have been officially signed, the UFL has agreements with six stadiums. He said the UFL is talking with Major League Soccer teams about using their stadiums in deals under which the UFL would pay a facility fee and share revenue generated on football game days.
Huyghue said past NFL rivals failed due to overspending, unrealistic expectations and overly gimmicky approaches. The UFL, however, will have a salary cap — like the NFL — and is assuming average per-game attendance conservatively at 25,000.
“We’re much more realistic in our expectations,” he said. “We’re managing our costs better than I think the other (failed) leagues did.”
The UFL will not spend heavily on a few star players like the USFL did, he added. The UFL model is based on attracting players from the bottom half of NFL rosters, many of whom have turned into NFL stars when given a chance to play.
The UFL will aim to be more innovative, possibly putting microchips in balls to help referees with ball placement, as well as embracing the betting side of the sport by allowing broadcasters to talk openly about point spreads.
“We’re obviously going to make sure we protect the integrity of the game, but it’s foolish not to think the NFL hasn’t made a significant amount of revenue of its television product because there are wagers on the games,” Huyghue said.
Editing by Braden Reddall