The United Football League insists its obituary is yet to be written despite the early shutdown of its season for the second straight year.
The UFL announced Saturday that it was suspending play after four games. In a press release, the league said it intends to play the final four games of the 2012 season next spring. The league also said it intends to play a fall season in 2013.
The decision to play in the spring could present some problems for the Omaha Nighthawks, who play their home games at TD Ameritrade Park. The venue also serves as Creighton’s home field for the collegiate baseball season as well as the home of the College World Series in June.
“Discussions will be held in coming days regarding potential options,” Omaha General Manager Matt Boockmeier said in a text message to The World-Herald.
Boockmeier declined to be interviewed regarding Saturday’s development, saying in a text that the UFL “has asked me to stick with the league statement.”
Saturday’s statement, one of the few issued this year by a league that has no commissioner or central office, cited insufficient funds as the reason for suspending the 2012 season. The UFL also saw its 2011 season come to a premature end as it canceled the final two games of a planned six-game season.
The UFL has been unable to pay its players, coaches and support staff this season. Paul Pelosi, the owner of the Sacramento franchise, cited the high cost of obtaining workers’ compensation insurance as a reason for the league’s 2012 financial problems.
Pelosi, William Hambrecht and Bill Mayer are the league’s primary investors. Hambrecht owns the Las Vegas franchise, while Mayer owns the Virginia franchise.
“It is our first priority to take care of our players, coaches and staff,” said Pelosi, speaking for the ownership group, “and then to raise sufficient funds to take care of our obligations and to resume fully-financed operations in 2013.”
In addition to salaries, the UFL pays to house and feed players, coaches and staff members. Asked if the Nighthawks will be able to meet their other obligations, Boockmeier referred a reporter to Pelosi’s statement.
“I can’t say anything,” he said.
The Nighthawks had to pay the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority in advance for rent of TD Ameritrade. It’s uncertain what type of other obligations to local vendors the Nighthawks might have incurred.
Saturday’s development hardly came as a surprise. The UFL lost $120 million in its first three years of operation, and its fourth season seemed almost doomed from the start.
Many observers believed the UFL had played its final games last fall, but Hambrecht announced in the spring that the league intended to play again in 2012. It wasn’t until late July, when the UFL announced that CBS Sports Network would broadcast its games, that there was any concrete evidence the season would be played.
Training camps were supposed to open in late August but the insurance issue — the UFL still had to pay off last year’s bill for workers’ comp in addition to securing new coverage — forced repeated delays and eventually led to pushing back the start of league play by a week.
The four teams had a week to prepare for their first games, which were played the last week of September. As debts mounted, fan apathy increased. Attendance at games was sparse — Las Vegas drew 601 for its second home game, while Virginia did not announce attendance for Friday’s game against Sacramento because the crowd was so small.
Omaha drew 3,563 and 2,234 for its two home games. That compares to the more than 22,000 it averaged in its inaugural season in 2010, when it played four games at Rosenblatt Stadium. The Nighthawks averaged more than 14,000 for three home games in 2011 when they moved to TD Ameritrade.
Some of the attendance woes could be attributed to league’s past failings as well as the lack of money to advertise its current product.
“We have no marketing money,” said Las Vegas coach Jim Fassel, who also is the team’s president, after his team defeated Omaha last Wednesday. “You can have the best hamburger stand in the state but if you don’t have money to advertise that fact, it’s hard to get people to take notice of you.”
Generally, the league received passing marks for the quality of its on-field product. The four teams’ rosters were dotted with former NFL players. Many of its other players had been a part of NFL training camp rosters at some point in their careers.
In a release, Boockmeier said Omaha fans can receive ticket refunds for the final two home games this fall by going to the online ticket inquiry form at www.omahanighthawks.com/tickets.
“We have done, and will continue to do, everything we can to bring a great brand of professional football to our fans in Omaha,” he said in a statement. “We are proud of what we accomplished not only this season but throughout our short history.
“The organization is grateful to the many fans and partners who have supported us through these last three years.”
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