SBJ/October 8-14, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Financial struggles could shutter UFL

The United Football League, entering the third week of its season, could shutter shortly if it is unable to pay its players, agents and other sources said last week.

The players, these sources said, have yet to be paid this year.

Late payments and non-payments to players, other employees and vendors have bedeviled the 4-year-old league, calling into question whether the UFL can ever operate as the unofficial minor league to the NFL that it aimed to be at launch. The four-team league, which is operating without a commissioner, several weeks ago hired the law firm Morrison & Foerster to defend it from the claims that have been brought against the struggling outfit from ex-employees and vendors.

Sources said the league’s players have yet to be paid this year. The UFL features four teams.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Some agents have been advising players not to compete until they are paid, further contending that some players have left clubs. “I have told my clients in writing that until they are compensated they should not play,” said agent David Canter, who has three UFL player clients, each owed $28,000 for the season, and others in the NFL. “My understanding is before one game players were basically begged by the coaches to get on the plane to go to a game.”

The UFL for its part offered two statements.

“We understand our obligation as it relates to compensating players within the week following our games and it is our intention to honor that obligation,” said UFL President Bill Mayer, in a statement through a spokesman.

Referring to the hire of Morrison & Foerster, UFL spokesman Larry Weisman said, “Any claims against the UFL are in the hands of the legal department for examination of their merits and are undergoing thorough scrutiny. The UFL will not comment on any individual claims or reports of claims in the interest of the privacy of those claimants and the league.”

One such claimant is Marc Daniels, who said his TV company is still owed money for work done for the now-relocated Florida Tuskers. He hired a production company, ENX Entertainment, that Daniels said is also owed money.

The Morrison & Foerster lawyer in charge of the UFL account is Sharon Parella. A partner in the firm, Parella referred queries to the UFL.

Some who have submitted claims to the law firm say they have received no response.

“[The] league owes me $4,500; it was submitted to Morrison & Foerster LLP per league request in the last 10 days,” said Windsor Hall, the former director of business management at the Tuskers. “I have requested status and get no response. They owe several vendors in Orlando thousands.”

The UFL has lost tens of millions of dollars since launching, failing to find a niche playing on Fridays in the fall. The reported first-year loss was $30 million; the loss grew to around $45 million the next season. The main financial backers are New York investment banker Mayer, and financiers Bill Hambrecht and Paul Pelosi, whose wife is the former speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi.

The league has been unable to find an audience at the gate, having originally projected 20,000 fans per game, but contests this season have drawn only a few thousand. Its current TV deal with CBS Sports Network requires the league to pay to air the games.

Another football league is scheduled to launch in spring 2014: the reincarnated United States Football League. Many football insiders believe a spring league, where it will not be competing against the NFL and college football, would have a better chance to thrive.

The UFL played in the fall hoping to become an in-season feeder system for the NFL, and some players did make the jump. But the NFL balked at the UFL’s demands for payment for those players, which was a key element of the new league’s economic plan. The UFL also had hoped the NFL lockout last year would extend into the regular season, allowing the UFL to become the only game in town.

Now the league, which many did not expect to play this year, looks challenged to get through its scheduled eight-week season.

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