SBJ/20090209/This Week's News

Spouse of Pelosi buys UFL clubs

Paul Pelosi, husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is leading a group that paid $30 million to purchase the inaugural four teams that will compete this fall in the United Football League, according to executives launching the startup league.

The UFL was originally envisioned as a six-team, six-owner league but had to scale back its ambitions because of the economy, said league Commissioner Michael Huyghue. Instead, the group led by Pelosi, who was former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s roommate at Georgetown University, will own all four teams. Those teams will barnstorm across as many as nine cities playing 13 games starting in October.

“The real focus is to treat this as a soft launch and come back strong in 2010,” Huyghue said.

The league will have $16 million of labor costs in its planned four- to five-week kickoff season, Huyghue said. Originally, the six teams were to have salary caps of $20 million each and $12 million salary floors.

Frank Vuono, the league’s acting chief operating officer, said the UFL is in advanced talks to play in the Los Angeles area at the Home Depot Center; on Long Island at Hofstra University; in San Francisco at AT&T Park; in Orlando at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium; in Hartford, Conn., at Rentschler Field; and in Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium. He identified Memphis, Sacramento and Birmingham, Ala., as other cities that could host games.

In the first season, teams will not call a specific city home, and specific team branding is still being worked out. A 12-game tour will culminate in a championship game at a venue to be determined. The teams will begin training at a facility in Casa Grande, Ariz., in late August, in time to pick up players cast off from NFL preseason squads. Eachteam will carry 50 players, and most of the teams’ coaches will have NFL experience.

No TV deal is locked in, though Huyghue said one was ready to be signed. He said the outlet has asked for its name not to be disclosed yet.

There also are no sponsorships in place yet. “I am going out, hat in my hand, in the worst economy in U.S. history,” Vuono said.

Paul Pelosi, who has made money in real estate and stocks though his firm Financial Leasing Services Inc., was unavailable for comment. His wife is not an investor, Huyghue said, but her standing has been felt to some degree: Huyghue received a VIP ticket to the inauguration, and he said that 20 minutes after the ceremony, President Barack Obama walked up to Huyghue to congratulate him on the UFL.

Huyghue declined to comment on other members of Paul Pelosi’s ownership group.

Vuono and Huyghue said the NFL continues to offer assistance and cooperation in areas like officiating. With the demise several years ago of NFL Europa, the NFL could treat the UFL as a minor league.

The UFL ultimately will try to regionalize its teams so they are affiliated with specific NFL clubs.

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