UFL is hoping to fill possible NFL television void
By Eric Olson, AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. -- The financially troubled United Football League hopes it can fill the void on television this fall if all or part of the 2011 NFL season is canceled.
"Every network is looking at content they have to fill in, and people are seeing us as a potential viable option," UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue said this week.
The five-team UFL started in 2009 and is made up of players who were cut in training camps and veterans who want to get back to the NFL. Last season each 52-man roster included an average of 24 players with NFL experience.
Huyghue said he's had preliminary talks with network executives.
ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer said his network has "no current plans" to pick up UFL games. NBC and CBS had no comment. A Fox spokesman did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The UFL lost $30 million in its inaugural season and $50 million in 2010, Huyghue said.
The UFL's only television exposure has been on Versus and HDNet, but the league had to pay an undisclosed amount for production costs.
The league's master plan calls for the creation of a revenue stream from TV rights fees, but there is no timetable. The UFL owns at least 50 percent of four franchises and 100 percent of the fifth, the first-year Virginia Destroyers.
Huyghue said UFL investors considered folding after last season because of the heavy financial losses. They decided to press on because they believe in the league's mission and foresee improving economic conditions.
Huyghue acknowledged that part of the reason the UFL moved up the start of its season to August was so the league would be able to take TV time slots that would have been filled by NFL preseason games.
But Huyghue said the league isn't banking on a windfall from a potential NFL lockout, Huyghue said.
"It's not a business strategy for us," he said. "It's potentially an opportunity."
The UFL's teams are in Omaha, Las Vegas, Hartford, Sacramento and Norfolk, Va. Pro Bowlers such as Jeff Garcia and Ahman Green were in the league last season, as were ex-NFL coaches Dennis Green and Jim Fassel.
NFL teams signed about 60 UFL players last season, assigning them to either the active roster or practice squad.
Attendance ranged from about 10,000 a game in Las Vegas to 23,000 in Omaha.
Green said players, who earned about $50,000 apiece, have been paid in full but didn't receive their last checks on time. Huyghue said each team had about $1 million in unpaid bills at the end of the season.
Huyghue said the UFL hopes to scale back on some expenses and might reduce rosters. Absent an agreement with a major network, Huyghue said he hopes to bargain with its 2010 TV partners to reduce the cost for getting games on television.
Even if a lockout extends into the fall, there's no guarantee a major network will want to pay to televise UFL games.
"If we get some (revenue), it's going to be gravy in terms of moneys necessary to go forward," Huyghue said. "Realistically, will we get a rights fee payment if there's no lockout? The answer is pretty clearly no."