Plagued by mounting debt and apathy, the United Football League on Saturday suspended operations midway through its 2012 season.
The UFL said it plans to resume the season in the spring of 2013, then play a 2013 season next fall. League members Las Vegas, Sacramento, Omaha and Virginia each had played four of eight regular-season games.
“I always believed it would work up until the last couple of days,” said Locomotives president and coach Jim Fassel, whose team was 4-0. “They just didn’t have the money to move forward.”
Locos wide receiver Andrae Thurman wasn’t as confident the UFL could make it through the season.
“When you get to the point where you can’t expect to get a full paycheck, you knew it was just a matter of time,” Thurman, a four-year UFL veteran, said after he and teammates were notified of the suspension. “Hopefully some of the guys will get jobs in the NFL.”
Players and coaches from the four teams have not been paid in full for the games played. Sacramento owner Paul Pelosi said in a statement the league intends to eventually make payroll.
“It is our first priority to take care of our players, coaches and staff, and then to raise sufficient funds to take care of our obligations and to resume fully financed operations in 2013,” Pelosi said.
Thurman said he isn’t optimistic about the UFL’s future.
“Realistically, it doesn’t seem like it has a chance for the spring,” he said. “As for the fall, I don’t think you’ll see a lot of UFL veterans coming back. You’ll see some young guys, 23 to 27, try to use it to get some experience. But it won’t be the same quality football you’ve been seeing.”
UFL players are free to pursue other opportunities, and agents were contacting NFL teams Saturday hoping to get their clients work.
The UFL has acknowledged it lost more than $120 million in its first three seasons, though sources with knowledge of the situation say the losses were closer to $150 million. The 2012 season was delayed so the league could try to settle a debt over workmen’s compensation insurance as well as provide workmen’s comp for this year.
The season eventually began Sept. 26 at Sam Boyd Stadium, where about 2,500 fans watched the Locos defeat Virginia, 19-6. In Las Vegas’ other home game, a 41-6 victory over Omaha on Oct. 3, a Locos spokesman said the attendance was 601, but it appeared to be less.
Attendance throughout the league was sparse, and getting worse by the week. Even a national TV deal with CBS Sports wasn’t enough to build spectator interest or entice potential investors.
Fassel said he will address the situation today with his players and assistants. He will meet with Bill Hambrecht, the Locos’ owner and founder and chairman of the league, on Tuesday in San Francisco.
“We need to get the players and coaches paid,” Fassel said. “Bill understands that. But we’ve got a lot of loose ends that need to get tied up.”
Fassel said he understands why people would question the UFL’s decision to start a fourth season without adequate funds.
“We discussed waiting a year,” he said. “Why pour $6 million when you’re not financially solvent?”
Hambrecht said before the season he thought the CBS Sports TV contract, despite not generating any income, was the key to the UFL’s survival. Once that deal was secured in late July, the decision was made to play the 2012 season.
“You have to be on national TV,” Hambrecht said. “You have to have your product out there.”
Yet despite that exposure and the fact the product was quite good – from players to coaches to officials – the UFL had little credibility among general fans. Other than small pockets of hard-core support in each of the four cities, there didn’t appear to be enough interest to sustain the league long term.
“The football was all good,” Fassel said. “But every league that starts up is not about the product – it’s the business plan. And obviously our business plan had some problems.”
In addition to players, coaches and administrative staff, others are owed money from previous seasons. They have been directed to file claims with the UFL’s attorney.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.