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UFL to Los Angeles Becoming Reality

Oct 22, 2010 – 9:45 AM
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Steve Pivovar

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OMAHA, Neb.-- Imagine if you wrote a reality television series based on the United Football League.

Far-fetched? Perhaps, but it's an idea that offers some insight as to why the two-year-old professional football league appears intent on putting an expansion franchise in the city of angels.

David Marcus, managing director for WR Hambrecht & Co., is in charge of investor relations for the UFL. He said there has been "quite a bit'' of interest in the league from potential investors in the Los Angeles area, although he said he was not at liberty to divulge names.

What's exciting, he said, is the backgrounds of those potential investors.
"It cuts across all levels of business and media,'' he said. "We've been talking to people who would like to explore the possibilities a team could bring other than what kind of value they might be able to extract from being an investor in a football team.

"They don't want to buy a team just to be an owner of a football team. They might be interested in doing a reality show or something of that sort. There are so many possibilities that are open when you're talking about that market.''

Michael Huyghue, UFL commissioner, was in Omaha this week to announce that the league's championship game would be played there Nov. 27. In an interview, Huyghue stopped short of saying that Los Angeles would be one of the three expansion franchises that begin play in 2011.

"I feel like if we don't go now, we may never have a chance to get in there.If there was ever a window to go into a large market, this is probably our only window for that opportunity.''
--UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue on bringing a team to Los Angeles
But based on some of his comments, it might not be too surprising if sometime during championship week, Huyghue stands at a podium and welcomes L.A. into the UFL family. (Note: a UFL source told FanHouse this week that the league is going to be making a big announcement during the championship week in Omaha)

"It would be a bit of a calculated gamble and risk,'' Huyghue said, "but it makes sense when you consider all of the reasons.''

Reason No. 1 is that Los Angeles has been without professional football since 1994, when the Raiders relocated to Oakland and the Rams went to St.Louis. The city has been working to resolve the lack of a National Football League but to date has been unsuccessful.

Huyghue said the UFL considers Los Angeles important in expanding the league's television footprint. The fact that the NFL faces a potential work stoppage in 2011, Huyghue said, makes this the right time to consider a move into the area.

"I feel like if we don't go now, we may never have a chance to get in there,'' he said. "If there was ever a window to go into a large market, this is probably our only window for that opportunity.''

The UFL's attempt to operate franchises in New York and San Francisco in 2009 were unsuccessful. Those franchises relocated to Hartford, Conn., and Sacramento, Calif., for the 2010 season.

If the UFL moves into the Los Angeles area, Huyghue said, the league would consider playing games at Home Depot Stadium in Carson, Calif. The stadium seats 27,000 and is the home of the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS.

"We feel we could fill that stadium,'' Marcus said, "just as we do in Omaha.''

The UFL expanded into Omaha this season, and the Nighthawks sold 24,000 tickets for each of the their first two home games. The final two games, to be played Oct. 28 and Nov. 19, are approaching sell outs, team officials said.

Marcus said the UFL's business model provides hope that the league could make a go of it in the Los Angeles area, whereas the NFL has found it to be tough sledding.

"First of all, our metrics are very different than the NFL,'' he said. "The NFL requires a stadium that seats 70 or 80 thousand and must generate huge amounts of revenue. Our costs are a fraction of an NFL's team, so we feel we can be successful if we can get 20,000 people into a stadium.

"Our ticket prices are much more affordable. I can tell you one thing: no one has offered football in Los Angeles for $20 a ticket.''

The UFL will expand to eight teams in 2011, and already has announced that Hampton Roads, Va., would be one of the expansion teams. Huyghue said in August that the league hoped to announce the seventh team around the start of league play in mid-September and the eighth during the league's championship week leading up to the Nov. 27 title game.

The timetable now calls for the seventh team to be named during championship week and the eighth at a later date. One reason for the delay, Huyghue said, is that the success of the Omaha franchise has caused the league to reassess its expansion plans.

In addition to selling out Rosenblatt Stadium, the Nighthawks also have more than 15,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter. Merchandise sales have exceeded expectations. Huyghue has called Omaha the "model city'' for the league.

In addition to Los Angeles, Huyghue said Portland, San Antonio and Salt Lake City are locations the league is considering for expansion. The success of smaller-market Omaha, though, has increased the expansion pool.

He said the league is now looking at cities such at Des Moines, Iowa; Wichita, Kan.; Jackson, Miss.; and Kansas City.

"What's happened here (Omaha) has forced us to take a little closer look at things,'' Huyghue said. "We were probably within a day of announcing one of those other markets but we're glad we pulled back. It's not that it's not a good market but we want to make sure we make the best decision that we can.

"We're taking a little deeper look, thinking that it might not be so bad to have another Omaha. The fan response we've gotten here has given us a greater insight into where we belong as a league and where we're going to have our success.''
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