Solana Beach man leads effort to create new pro football league
Jim Bailey sees a “football void” in America, and he aims to fill it.
The Solana Beach resident is president and CEO of the United States Football League, a fledgling effort that organizers hope will eventually bring long bombs, grinding runs and smashing hits to football-starved fans during the spring doldrums.
“From the Super Bowl to the beginning of the next season, there’s just no football,” said Bailey, a former executive with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
For now, the USFL exists solely in the minds of Bailey and his partners, as well as its website, www.theusfl.com.
But he and his partners are working hard to raise money for an eventual launch of what is envisioned as an eight-team league that will play its 14-game schedule during spring and early summer.
Core partners in the venture are Bailey, local attorney Bill Miltner, finance expert Paul Byrne, and Fred Biletnikoff Jr., son of NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff Sr., said Bailey. All four have invested their own money in the start-up, he said.
The business model that Bailey and his partners are creating calls for all eight teams in the USFL to be owned by the league itself, rather than by individual owners. An earlier version of the USFL, which has no connection to the new league, operated for three seasons in the 1980s.
USFL teams will be located in cities that have no NFL or Major League baseball franchise, said Bailey. He declined to specify which cities are under consideration, but said a Southern California team is unlikely due to the existence of other pro teams in the region.
The players will come from the ranks of athletes who aspire to play in the NFL, but haven’t yet landed with a team, said Bailey.
NFL teams each bring about 90 players to training camp and keep about 65, said Bailey. That leaves several hundred players who were good enough to be called to camp, but didn’t make the team. That pool of players will form the basis of the USFL, he said.
Bailey envisions the USFL as a developmental league for the NFL, similar to professional baseball’s farm system. Players will be able to hone their skills, mature and learn how professional systems operate.
“This will give them a chance to get better and showcase their abilities in a competitive environment and be seen by the NFL,” he said. Players will be free to sign with the NFL at any time.
Players will probably earn about $2,500 per game, plus bonuses, which he said will be enough to live on, but far less than the millions paid to NFL stars.
The new USFL won’t have any connection with the NFL, but the league is aware of the USFL, and NFL officials have said such a developmental league is needed, Bailey said.
Bailey and his partners envision their teams playing in smaller venues, with lower ticket prices, than their NFL counterparts.
For now, the USFL is focused on raising $5 million, which will cover the legal and marketing costs for a “private placement,” which is a form of investment that will bring in the bulk of the money needed to launch and sustain the league, Bailey said.
“We won’t make money for three or four years, and we need to be able to weather that and not have to make bad deals to survive,” he said.
For 21 years, Bailey served as executive vice president with the Cleveland Browns, and then the Baltimore Ravens after the team’s move east. He primarily handled business and financial affairs for the club, including negotiating contracts with players. He left the league 15 years ago, and since then worked for a commercial development company and has consulted on sports stadium projects.
The USFL hasn’t established a definite timeline for when the first kickoffs will take place. Although the league wants to hit the field as soon as possible, Bailey said, the launch won’t happen until all the pieces are in place.
“We’re going to start when we’re ready to start,” he said. “You have to play good football and the teams need plenty of time to get ready.”
He doesn’t doubt, however, that demand exists for his product.
“There’s a tremendous appetite for football,” he said.
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