SBJ/20090126/Faces & Places
Published January 26, 2009
They say that it can’t be done and that, in the face of history and odds, it shouldn’t be attempted. Yet everyone who has tried to compete with the NFL started with optimism. So why shouldn’t United Football League founder Bill Hambrecht and Commissioner Michael Huyghue? They lead with their confidence. They’ve polished their reactions to critics, for sure, taking on naysayers with confidence bordering on bravado. Hambrecht, who described himself as “a broken-down jock who played high school football on Long Island, and not very good,” said “there are plenty of underserved football markets.” He and Google SVP Tim Armstrong are the chief investors in the UFL, which they expect to launch next fall. Hambrecht is convinced that public ownership is the necessary ingredient. “It will connect communities with their teams.” The chairman and co-CEO of W.R. Hambrecht & Co. said, “I’ve been in the investment banking business all my life. I know how to make this work.” Huyghue said, “I’m in the football business 24-6 [one day reserved for his three children], and I know how to make this work.” Hambrecht said it’s “daunting, but there is enough demand out there” in terms of markets, ownership and cable. “First and foremost, ours is a league run by football people.” Huyghue was an executive with the Jaguars and an agent. COO Frank Vuono has had a rich history with NFL Properties and his 16W agency. And VPs Matthew Couloute Jr. and Tomás Llibre come from the NFL. Surprisingly, Hambrecht said the NFL “has been encouraging. They are even sharing resources.”
NFL competitors should have their own stars on the timeline of American football. The brightest star would be the USFL’s, the league founded in the mid-1980s by David Dixon. USFL veterans remember the upstart league with admiration and what-ifs. Many blame one owner, Donald Trump, for its demise. One, noted sports film producer Michael Tollin, said he got his start when the USFL gave him “the rights to be their exclusive production company. We had no idea what we were doing, but we were having so much fun, borrowing money, getting it off the ground. Everyone I talk to has that same nostalgic feeling.” Tollin is talking to lots of USFL veterans — “We’re shooting Jim Mora today,” he said earlier this month, “Keith Jackson tomorrow” — as he produces a documentary on the USFL as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” project, 30 original sports films to celebrate ESPN’s 30-year tenure. Tollin, who has also commissioned a screenplay for “Chuck Wepner, The Real Rocky,” is a consulting producer on the ESPN project. He is not running it, but “I’m a voice in the room, brainstorming ideas and finding filmmakers.” His USFL film is slated for airing in the initial group next fall. … Tollin said the “30 for 30” project is exciting “because ESPN is saying to the filmmaking community, ‘Come to us first.’” The guy behind that and behind ESPN’s sports film portion of the Tribeca Film Festival is Keith Clinkscales, SVP for content development and enterprises. In the early ’90s, the man who launched a half-dozen magazines didn’t own a television. He happened upon a store promoting sales by showing “Major League.” It’s Clinkscales’ favorite sports movie. “I bought a television set and the movie on the spot.” Like his boss, John Skipper, EVP content, he is a film fan. Clinkscales, who is now running a competition to find the official trailer for the 2009 Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, said, “I love films, especially documentaries.” He and his crew of John Dahl, Connor Schell and Dan Silver are working with Spike Lee on a Kobe Bryant film (due in the spring, perhaps for the late April film festival) and they worked behind the scenes last year as Dan Klores put together “Black Magic.” “I really enjoy that, getting to know the filmmakers and seeing the tough, often gut-wrenching editing decisions through their eyes. It’s an awesome experience.”
Lance Barrow, the coordinating producer of The NFL on CBS and of golf, had a bit part in “Tin Cup.” He said, “Like Leonardo DiCaprio after ‘Titanic,’ I felt a little burnt out on the movie industry. But right now I’m waiting for the right role.” As he waits, he guided CBS through the NFL playoffs and was named Abilene Christian University’s alumnus of the year. The multi-Emmy winner was a 1978 communications graduate and played football and baseball there. … Ryan Merriman, Aidan Quinn and Andie MacDowell will star in “The 5th Quarter,” a feature film set for May release about linebacker Jon Abbate, who led Wake Forest after the death of his 15-year-old brother.
Marc Pollick may not be a movie star, but he’s “in heaven” as his son Joel stars for the Wellesley High (Mass.) basketball team. The senior guard has led his Raiders to five straight wins. The Giving Back Fund president said, “I’m beaming.” … Kelly Perdew, CEO of sports fantasy site RotoHog.com and former “Apprentice” winner, married Dawn DuMont, an interactive advertising executive. The couple streamed their wedding ceremony live from the Wynn in Las Vegas to friends and family worldwide, but they were unable to sell a title sponsorship and the honeymoon video rights were unavailable.
John Genzale can be reached at email@example.com.