United Football League may field team in Austin

Austin is under consideration for a franchise of the United Football League.

In a recent Twitter posting, UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue (photo below left), a former executive with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, identified Austin as a potential expansion market, along with San Antonio; Hawaii; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Salt Lake City. The UFL wants to add two more teams for its third season, which will be in 2011. Six teams will compete in the fledgling league this fall.

Prognosticators speculate that Los Angeles, Portland, Salt Lake City and San Antonio are the top contenders among the seven expansion prospects.

One UFL watcher throws cold water on Austin’s chances, saying the Capital City is “Texas Longhorns country and I think the UFL should avoid it.”

Another UFL observer agrees: “I put Austin last in this bunch of expansion possibilities simply because the shadow of the University of Texas football program is too great. An Austin UFL team would get lost in the shuffle, and there are plenty of other cities that would be in the UFL’s better interest.”

If Austin or San Antonio were awarded a UFL franchise, it’s highly unlikely that the neighboring city would be given the other expansion slot for 2011. It costs $10 million to buy a UFL franchise.

Minor-league professional sports teams already in the Austin area are the Austin Turfcats (indoor football), Austin Aztex (soccer), Austin Toros (basketball), Round Rock Express (baseball) and Texas Stars (hockey). The Austin Wranglers, an Arena Football League team, launched in 2004 but folded in 2007.

The upstart football league describes itself this way: “The UFL provides high-quality professional football during a traditional fall season while embracing innovation and fan interaction. The UFL serves its local communities with pride and dedication, and aims to provide every fan with an exciting and memorable game experience.”

Last year, Huyghue mentioned seven prospective markets for expansion of the minor-league football organization. They were Hartford, Conn., and Omaha, Neb.—both of which now have UFL teams—along with Austin, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Portland and Salt Lake City.

Norfolk, Va., recently was announced as the newest addition to the UFL roster. The team will start playing in 2011.

Aside from Hartford and Omaha, the other UFL teams are in Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; and Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento team is owned by Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Among the investors in the New York-based UFL are billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (photo at left), AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and investment banker Bill Hambrecht, who owns the UFL’s team in Las Vegas. Texas oil baron T. Boone Pickens initially agreed to invest in the league but backed out before the 2009 inaugural season, which featured four teams.

“It’s good football,” Cuban told ESPN.com earlier this year about the UFL. “It was kind of still in beta last year, it will probably get a higher beta release this year, and I think next year is when it really starts to kick in.”

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