Despite the mounting losses, United Football League officials are determined to stay in business for a fourth season come 2012.
To do so will require new teams, new investors, a new television deal and smarter business decisions, all of which will need to be done soon.
“We’re looking at making a decision sometime in January,” commissioner Michael Huyghue said Friday prior to the UFL championship game, in which the Virginia Destroyers ended the Locomotives’ two-year hold on the title with a 17-3 win at Virginia Beach (Va.) Sportsplex. “A lot depends on expansion. We are looking at eight (teams) for 2012.”
Locomotives owner and UFL founder Bill Hambrecht said he’ll settle for six, provided all are on solid fiscal ground.
“We definitely can’t continue the way we’re currently constructed,” Hambrecht said. “If we’re going to be taken seriously, we have to have more than four teams. Eight would be a good number, but we can get by with six.”
Huyghue said the league is looking at Des Moines, Iowa; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Jackson, Miss.; Salt Lake City; and Portland, Ore. Huyghue said he has devoted most of the past month to finding potential ownership groups for expansion.
Hambrecht said Friday that the Locos, despite poor attendance, are worth keeping in Las Vegas. However, unless new investors are found and more corporate sponsorships secured, staying in Las Vegas will be difficult, Hambrecht said.
“The team has been a huge success on the field,” he said. “But for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to draw at home. The question we have to ask ourselves: Is there any way to generate local interest at the ownership level and at the corporate level? That’s what’s lacking in Las Vegas.”
Hambrecht said he will decide over the next three to four months whether the Locos remain in Las Vegas or relocate to Salt Lake City, a place Hambrecht believes would be an ideal UFL market.
Meanwhile, the Locos players are mixed in their optimism that there will be a 2012 UFL season.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” three-year veteran tight end Adam Bergen said.
Defensive back Wale Dada, who also has been with the Locos all three seasons, thinks otherwise.
“My gut is telling me ‘Yes,’ ” he said. “Every year, they go through their money issues, and they’re still here. They didn’t lose as much this year, so that’s a positive.
“The key is getting on TV. This is a good product. They just have to let the country know how good it is.”
Huyghue said the UFL cut its losses from $50 million in 2010 to approximately $20 million this season. Drastic steps were taken to reduce deficit spending. League officials moved the Florida franchise to Virginia and folded the Hartford franchise in August. Last week, the regular season’s final two weeks were eliminated to save some $4 million.
“We had dug ourselves too deep a hole from last year. But we felt we needed to play this season if we were going to survive,” Hambrecht said. “Given the circumstances, I thought it went pretty well.
“Now, we’re starting fresh. We’re looking at expanding the league. We’re looking at getting a TV deal that’s realistic and brings in revenue. We’ve been able to maintain a good, quality product on the field. Three of the four current franchises have good support. I’m still very optimistic this is going to work.”
Virginia owner Bill Mayer shares Hambrecht’s optimism.
“This can succeed,” Mayer said. “It’s really not that complicated. But we had to repair what we did, and that’s what this year was about.”
Can the UFL find new investors? Can it work out a TV deal that brings in money rather than spends it? Is Huyghue, who has one year left on his contract, the right man to lead the league?
“We’ll see,” Hambrecht said. “I’m willing to stay with it, and so are the other three owners.”
As for Huyghue, Mayer said: “Michael has done a great job in putting a quality product on the field. We have Michael to run the football side of it. I think the four owners can handle the business end.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.