UFL to launch play with four franchises

Updated: August 11, 2009, 4:10 PM ET
Reuters

CHICAGO -- The United Football League said Monday it will kick off play in October with a smaller slate of teams than planned due to the recession.

The four teams, which will play in seven cities in the inaugural season, is short of the six-to-eight the smaller rival of the NFL had hoped to open with, and league executives blamed the economy.

"The combination of the recession and the recent troubles on Wall Street left many investors unable to make the commitment we required for overall financial stability," the UFL said in a statement. "There is no question that the economy has played a role in our decision-making and will continue to do so for the unforeseen future."

The initial UFL teams include New York/Hartford, Conn.; Las Vegas/Los Angeles; San Francisco/Sacramento; and Orlando, Florida, the UFL said.

The six-week season will culminate with a championship game tentatively scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas.

The new league said its players will train in Casa Grande, Ariz., where a $20 million complex is being built for both city and UFL use. It will begin signing players in July.

It is a difficult time to launch a league, as even the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA 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, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Missing from the lineup is billionaire Mark Cuban, who was originally listed in 2007 as a potential owner. Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks, was charged last year by federal regulators with insider trading.

The UFL, which plans average ticket prices of $20, said it was negotiating lease agreements for the teams with stadium operators, as well as a broadcast agreement to nationally televise a game each week.

Details of those agreements will be announced when the deals are finalized, but the league previously told Reuters it was negotiating with Major League Soccer teams about using their stadiums.

The UFL's plans already have been scaled back as it had initially hoped to begin play last year.

It also originally had planned to open with eight teams in markets where the NFL did not have teams, starting play in August. 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, UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue told Reuters owners would initially put up $60 million and had been told to expect losses of $25 million to $30 million a year for the first three years, with profits to follow in the third to fifth years.