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dirk digler
05-30-2007, 10:26 AM
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/sports/playmagazine/0603play-business.html?ex=1338523200&en=e87310a952fa557f&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

First and Long — Very Long

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By JOE NOCERA
Published: June 3, 2007

Bill Hambrecht is a rich old Wall Street guy who has made his money tilting at windmills and disrupting the establishment. “That’s what I do,” he says. “It’s fun.” Almost a decade ago, at 62, he founded WRHambrecht + Company, whose fundamental premise is that companies don’t need to use Wall Street investment bankers — and pay their outrageous fees — to go public. Hambrecht + Company has since become so threatening to traditional underwriters that they often refuse to be involved in any I.P.O. in which his firm takes part.

And now, at an age when most people are well into retirement, he has decided to tackle the establishment again. This time, though, the establishment isn’t Wall Street. It’s the National Football League. Bill Hambrecht, you see, is starting up a professional football league. So far, he and his partner, Tim Armstrong, a senior executive at Google, have pledged $2 million each. They’ve hired a C.E.O. and a C.O.O., both of whom cut their teeth at the National Basketball Association. They’ve got a name: the United Football League. And they’ve lined up a wealthy, well-known businessman as their first owner: Mark Cuban, the billionaire who owns the N.B.A.’s Dallas Mavericks. Like Hambrecht, Cuban loves nothing more than confronting the status quo.

Obviously, the U.F.L. is still in the early planning stages. It hasn’t yet hired a single football person and is still hunting for seven more owners with Cuban’s deep pockets and contrarian mindset, so that the league can begin with eight teams. It could easily fall apart before the first kickoff. Indeed, there has already been one setback: Boone Pickens, the oilman turned-corporate-raider-turned-billionaire-hedge-fund manager, recently abandoned his intention to buy a team. But Cuban remains committed, and if all goes according to plan, the U.F.L. will play its first preseason games in August 2008. I kid you not.

Hambrecht has been thinking unconventional thoughts about pro football for a long time. Back in the early 1980s, he was a minority partner in the Oakland Invaders, one of the original franchises of the late, unlamented United States Football League, a spring league that played its games during the N.F.L.’s off-season. The U.S.F.L. folded in 1985, after three seasons. “It was started by a bunch of guys who were riding high because of the S.&L. boom,” Hambrecht recalls. “As soon as the boom turned to bust, the league went broke.”

Most of us would go through such an experience and conclude, Never again. Not Hambrecht. He was convinced that the U.S.F.L. could have worked with a smarter game plan and owners who were more patient. At various times he discussed a new league with NBC, CBS and Fox, but those talks went nowhere. Then one day last year, Hambrecht told Tim Armstrong, whom he met when his firm helped manage Google’s initial public offering, about his dream of a new football league. The more Armstrong heard, the more excited he got. By October, the two men had committed their $2 million, hired their first three executives (Bill Daugherty, the C.E.O.; Jon Brod, the C.O.O.; and Andrew Goldberg, a senior analyst) and begun an extensive study to see if the idea was really feasible.

Let’s now take a moment to consider what the U.F.L. will be up against: a monopolistic sports league utterly unafraid to take advantage of its monopoly power. Over the years, the N.F.L. has squashed four competitors, most recently the NBC- and World Wrestling Federation-backed XFL in 2001. Right now, Arena Football is an alternate league, but it’s a marginal thing, with negligible TV ratings and an average of 12,000 fans per game. And with eight players to a side, games in the N.F.L.’s off-season and a field that looks like a hockey rink, it’s not exactly “real” football.

Where others might be daunted by the N.F.L.’s success and power, though, Hambrecht came to believe its monopoly status gave him an opening. “I really started thinking hard about this after the Los Angeles Rams left to go to St. Louis and the Houston Oilers went to Nashville,” he told me over drinks recently. “Why do you leave two of the top 10 TV markets in the country for these two smaller markets?”

The answer, of course, is that the N.F.L. doesn’t really have to worry about where its teams are located, since most games are televised and the bulk of the league’s revenues come from its network contracts. What’s more, with the right stadium deal and enough corporate sponsorship, team owners can make as much (or more) money in smaller cities as they can in larger ones. That’s why the N.F.L. does just fine despite not fielding a team in 21 of the country’s top 50 markets — including such enormous metropolitan areas as San Antonio, Las Vegas, Orlando and (of course) Los Angeles. Nor does the N.F.L., which now has 32 teams, have much incentive to expand. On the contrary: expansion dilutes the TV money. (Greg Aiello, the N.F.L.’s spokesman, told me that “expansion isn’t on the table right now.”)

So the first step in Hambrecht’s plan is to enter big cities where the N.F.L. isn’t. As Mark Cuban put it to me in an e-mail, “There are quite a few good-sized non-N.F.L. cities that can support a pro team.” So far, the U.F.L. has decided to put teams in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Mexico City. (Cuban is considering taking the Las Vegas franchise.) Each owner will put up $30 million, giving him an initial half-interest in the team; the league will own the other half. But eventually the fans themselves will become shareholders — because each team is going to sell shares to the public. Then the owner, the league and the fans will each own a third of every franchise.

Hambrecht and his executives believe that the initial public offerings will raise, on average, another $60 million per team, giving it about $90 million in working capital. They also hope that the stock sale will create intense fan loyalty. “This is going to be a very accessible league,” says Daugherty, the C.E.O. “Fans will own a piece of the team, and they’ll get tickets at more affordable prices.”

Hambrecht expects his owners to be wealthy — and patient — enough to absorb losses for up to five years. The league will need a television contract, of course, but its existence is not predicated on a megabucks deal, at least not at first. The U.F.L. is open to making a smaller deal with a cable network like USA, TNT or Comcast’s Versus network (the former OLN). One mistake other leagues have made, Hambrecht believes, is counting on an upfront TV deal — and bringing in owners who expect to make money instantly.

One television advantage the U.F.L. will have is Friday night. Thanks to the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act, the N.F.L. is prohibited from televising games on most autumn Friday nights. (The prohibition was meant to protect high-school football.) Any new league would have televised football all to itself on that evening.

A new league’s biggest issue, though, is whether it really can approximate the N.F.L.’s level of play. As Daugherty puts it, “If you don’t put a good product on the field, nothing else matters.” When he first signed on, he and Brod immediately began looking into that question — and they came away convinced they could land decent players right away, and very good players eventually.

“Bill Walsh used to tell me that the last 20 players cut from every team were almost interchangeable with the last 20 players to make the team,” Hambrecht says. The new league will hire the best of those last 20 players — along with the best of the Arena players, the Canadian Football League players and so on. Though the U.F.L. will have a salary cap, it will be able to pay those players more than they are making now. It won’t be able to afford to sign marquee names like Peyton Manning or the biggest stars coming out of college, obviously. But the U.F.L. will be able to offer most rookies, who aren’t top draft choices, far more money than the N.F.L. would give them. And since the N.F.L. salary cap has been negotiated with the players’ union, it can’t be unilaterally changed.

“The average career of an N.F.L. player is less than four years,” Daugherty says. “They have a huge incentive to maximize their income.” The new league’s officials think they’ll be able to sign players drafted by the N.F.L. in the second round and later. And one former N.F.L. coach I spoke to — who asked not to be named because he didn’t want people to know he had spoken to the U.F.L. — agreed. “They are going to be able to get players and coaches,” he said. “That’s not going to be a problem.” It’s also worth remembering that many late-round draft choices are good football players. Tom Brady, for instance, was a sixth-round draft choice.

As U.F.L. executives see it, there has really only been one competing league that took the approach they want to take: the old American Football League. The A.F.L. played “11 on 11” football in the fall, mostly in cities where the N.F.L. did not. Its founder, Lamar Hunt, pioneered the concept of revenue-sharing and built a unified league with the staying power to last nine years before it merged with the N.F.L. That is the model the new league wants to emulate. Whether the ultimate goal is to merge with the N.F.L. or play alongside it — well, that’s the one place Hambrecht wasn’t going to go with me. “We’ll just see how it plays out,” he said.

When I asked Roger Noll, a sports economist at Stanford University, whether it is possible to compete with the N.F.L., he laughed, but he didn’t scoff. “The crucial barrier to entry is finding stadiums in the biggest cities,” he replied — something U.F.L. executives insist is not a problem in the places they are considering. “If you can do that, it would be easy to have a league.” Noll pointed out that for wealthy people who want to own a football team, it is far cheaper to start a new league than to try to land an expansion team — which, assuming that the N.F.L. were interested, would cost upward of $800 million. “You need to have enough money to experience losses that will amount to 20 to 30 percent of revenue in the first three or four years,” he said. It’s much cheaper to lose money over that time than to purchase an N.F.L. franchise.

When we met, Hambrecht said: “A guy asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ” He shrugged. “I had trouble explaining, except that it made logical sense.” On paper, it does. Whether it plays out that way in real life — who can say? But it’ll be fun to watch. Bill Hambrecht ventures usually are. .

Thig Lyfe
05-30-2007, 10:32 AM
How many professional football leagues are they going to make, anyway? They already have the All American Football League in the works, which has a base player salary of $100,000. If they get it off the ground, the AAFL will probably be the league to get the best non-NFL talent, because 100K is a lot of money for somebody who was great in college but can't break into the NFL. But even then it's far from a sure success. I just don't see all of these leagues as ever becoming anything more than money pits. Right now it's the NFL and Arena Football, and the two only co-exist because AFL is a completely different game. I think it will stay that way, too.

Valiant
05-30-2007, 10:32 AM
Sweet, good luck to them... Guess I need to get more back into shape... I might have a chance...

Planetman
05-30-2007, 10:35 AM
Bill Hambrecht is a rich old Wall Street guy who has made his money tilting at windmills and disrupting the establishment.
If history is any teacher, Bill Hambrecht is about to piss away his retirement.

the Talking Can
05-30-2007, 10:40 AM
I'm betting everything I have against them.

I'll be rich soon.

Fried Meat Ball!
05-30-2007, 10:40 AM
Good luck to 'em. I really hope it pans out.

Planetman
05-30-2007, 10:43 AM
:shake:

Planetman
05-30-2007, 10:44 AM
:shake: :shake:

Planetman
05-30-2007, 10:45 AM
:shake: :shake: :shake: :shake: :shake:

Fried Meat Ball!
05-30-2007, 10:46 AM
But... the XFL gave us He Hate Me.

KurtCobain
05-30-2007, 10:48 AM
I'm going to start the JFA , The Joey Football Association. My base player salary will start at two bottles of cheap vodka for every win.

Ultra Peanut
05-30-2007, 10:51 AM
Birmingham
Louisville
Memphis
Orlando

Las Vegas
Los Angeles
Mexico City
San Antonio

Ta da?

Reerun_KC
05-30-2007, 10:55 AM
Send one to OKC. We will watch.

Pushead2
05-30-2007, 11:09 AM
I bet Long Island gets a team. Since The Giants and Jets are in New Jersey.

the Talking Can
05-30-2007, 11:10 AM
Wyoming is an underdeveloped market

SNR
05-30-2007, 11:13 AM
I'm surprised nobody has tried to capitalize with a WNFL...

CoMoChief
05-30-2007, 11:14 AM
I'm going to start the JFA , The Joey Football Association. My base player salary will start at two bottles of cheap vodka for every win.

and Tommy Maddox

CoMoChief
05-30-2007, 11:17 AM
I'm surprised nobody has tried to capitalize with a WNFL...

Hell to be honest with you I don't think there should be the WNBA. No one watches it, it hogs tv time, and the league losese alot of money each year.

The only way anyone could make me go to a WNBA game is if they paid for my gas to get there and back, gave me courtside seats for me and 3or4 of my friends, and all the free food and beer we could eat and drink, and $100 cash just for having the pain to sit through all of that.

I remember here at MU they were having this promo where if you brought more than 3 friends your "courtside" seats only cost $1 first come first serve. Only about 200 people showed up.

Fried Meat Ball!
05-30-2007, 11:27 AM
I'm surprised nobody has tried to capitalize with a WNFL...
If they played it like the lingerie bowl (and also only hired women that looked good in that attire), I'd buy season tickets!

shaneo69
05-30-2007, 12:09 PM
Al Davis has already filed suit with the new league, contending that he has the rights to the LA franchise.

JimNasium
05-30-2007, 12:29 PM
Texarkana will get a team. Where else could a team get Western spirit served with Southern hospitality?

Frosty
05-30-2007, 01:14 PM
I'm surprised nobody has tried to capitalize with a WNFL...

You mean like this:

http://www.iwflsports.com/abouttheiwfl.php