SBJ/February 27-March 4, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Newest incarnation of the USFL hopes to establish itself in 2013 as minor league for NFL

Here we go again.

Another football league is preparing to launch, the latest in a long line of football startups that barely have gotten the NFL’s attention and almost none of which has succeeded. It’s just that this one has the same name as the last league that made a serious run at the NFL: the United States Football League.

Cuadra
A group led by Jaime Cuadra, chief financial officer of bluefin tuna farm Baja Aqua-farms, recently purchased the intellectual property of the USFL. He hopes to raise between $7 million and $10 million for a spring 2013 launch.

Former top NFL executive Jim Steeg is offering his advice pro bono.

“There is a need out there for a minor league,” said Steeg, who added he does not plan to take a full-time position with the USFL. He pointed to NFL players having less time on the field during the offseason — an element of the league’s new collective-bargaining agreement — and the potential for an 18-game NFL season as items that give impetus for a developmental league.

“[And] too many players don’t have a place to play,” he said.

The old USFL, which debuted in 1983 and remained in business until 1987 — and won an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL — foundered with runaway salaries for top stars like Doug Flutie, Reggie White and Steve Young.

At least initially, that should not be a concern for the latest incarnation of the USFL. The top salary for a USFL player will be $3,500 a game, Cuadra said. The plan is for 14 games, with eight teams initially.

No franchises have been sold yet (asking price: $1.2 million), and no TV, sponsorship or venue deals have been secured. Football operations are already under the guidance of Fred Biletnikoff Jr., a former Arena Football League coach.

The USFL also hopes to avoid the pratfalls of the United Football League. Debuting in 2009, the UFL has played a fall schedule, offering big salaries to coaches and some top players, but it has lost huge amounts and is behind on payments. Commissioner Michael Huyghue resigned last month, and league officials have said they are revising the UFL’s business model and strategy for a 2012 season.

The UFL also thought it would receive a transfer fee from the NFL for players. When NFL teams refused and the UFL prevented the targeted players from moving, it caused a significant backlash from those players.

The new USFL does not plan to charge fees.

While the league is still far from that stage, Steeg for one thinks the time is right for Class AAA-type franchises, playing in the spring, providing players for the NFL.

Cuadra said he has been working on the idea since last year and believes his lack of football background should be beneficial, as it will provide a fresh set of eyes on building a new league. “We have decided to fill our organization with not just football people,” he said.

No talks have yet occurred with the NFL, he added.
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