SBJ/20101129/This Week's Issue

UFL positions itself for possible NFL stoppage

The United Football League, seeking to capitalize on a potential NFL labor stoppage next season, has scheduled its third season to start two months early, on Aug. 7, 2011, and to play games on Sundays instead of Thursdays. Also, the league is holding back 25 games of its 65-game TV package in the event current NFL broadcasters might need replacement programming.

“The lockout is a big deal. It is just a chance for us to generate real buzz,” said Michael Huyghue, the UFL commissioner. Discussions, he added, have begun with NFL broadcasters over using UFL games next season, but he declined to comment on how advanced those talks were.

The UFL’s title game was scheduled for Sunday, closing the second season.

If the NFL avoids a work stoppage, the UFL will keep its games on Sundays in August. Once the NFL regular season arrives, the UFL would then revert to Thursdays.

The NFL’s collective-bargaining agreement expires March 3, and some insiders are expecting a protracted dispute.

Either way, Huyghue contended the UFL has moved beyond questions about its viability, to whether the league will serve as an official or unofficial development sport for the NFL or simply be independent.

Several players recently voiced concern about NFL teams needing to pay a transfer fee to the UFL for players moving to the larger league. But Huyghue said the UFL is not going to give away players, though he described the widely cited $150,000 fee as the cap and not the fixed amount.

“Realistically every player is not the same value,” he said.

The UFL lost between $30 million and $35 million in its first year and expects that figure to drop to between $15 million and $18 million this season. Year three will also show a loss, he added, unless TV money flows in from NFL broadcasters. Also, one of the teams is considering an initial public offering, Huyghue said, and fees from that could also bring the league to profitability.

Huyghue declined to identify the team other than to say it was one of the more successful squads. Huyghue did not dispute the suggestion of the Omaha Nighthawks, who have sold out all the games of their inaugural season.

The league has six teams and may expand by two. Expansions fees are between $20 million and $30 million apiece. The league will also move to a 10-game season next year, up from eight games this year.

UFL investors are assigned teams and can take them public. The UFL has broadcast deals with HDNet and Versus, which has an exclusive 30-day window in December to decide whether to renew its contract.

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