Update: Michael Huyghue

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

This is another in a series on area executives and political and community leaders who have played prominent roles in the development of Downtown or Jacksonville as a whole over the years. Some are still in the area, working or retired or a bit of both. Some have moved away and are working in other areas of the state or country. The series continues with Michael Huyghue.

What he did: Jacksonville Jaguars Senior Vice President of Football Operations 1994-2001; Founder, Axcess Sports & Entertainment, 2001.

What he’s doing now: Commissioner, United Football League.

Tuesday, the Rotary Club of South Jacksonville was the first group in Jacksonville to get the inside scoop on America’s newest professional sports league. Michael Huyghue, former Jacksonville Jaguars executive who is now commissioner of the United Football League (UFL), was the club’s guest speaker and he shared not only some of the sports side of the new venture, but the business side as well.

“I’ve heard people say that just what we need is another football league. That was my first reaction as well,” he said. “But I have always liked being part of building something.”

The UFL is not positioning itself to compete with the NFL, Huyghue assured his audience. In fact, the format and business model are designed to complement the established league.

“The UFL is meant to capture what the NFL isn’t doing, which is expansion,” said Huyghue.

In the 2009 inaugural season four teams will play home games in New York City, Las Vegas, Orlando and San Francisco, where the UFL will debut Oct. 10.

Huyghue said the teams will play a six-game season this year and the championship crown will be awarded Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas. Games will be played on Thursdays and Fridays in prime time and the first season will be televised on NFL Network.

He also said the UFL management and coaching staffs will be made up of people with NFL experience with the idea to provide for fans, “a quality of football much closer to the NFL than other alternative leagues.”

On the business side, Huyghue pointed out that of the $100 million salary cap available to an NFL team, 50 percent is paid to the top 10 players and 75 percent goes into the bank accounts of the top 25 players.

“That means 26-53 on the roster split the remaining $25 million,” said Huyghue. “Those are the players we’re going after.”

UFL teams will operate under a $20 million salary cap and the head coaches will make player selection decisions independent of the front office.

Many of the NFL’s top players were not selected in the first – or even second or third – rounds in the college draft. He cited former Jaguars Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell who fit that profile as well as New England quarterback Tom Brady, who was drafted in the sixth round.

Huyghue also said the UFL will be looking for players who are approaching free agency in the NFL but haven’t seen much, if any, playing time in their careers.

Another aspect of the UFL’s business plan to attract television viewers is to give fans access to the game that is currently not available. Huyghue said cameras and microphones will be in place for a look inside the locker room during halftime. Technology is also part of the UFL format, Huyghue said. Part of the show will give fans an up close and personal view of the game via cameras mounted on select players.

Huyghue said the teams will play in smaller venues than their NFL brethren and ticket prices will be lower.

“I think a mistake some NFL teams make is they play in stadiums that are too big,” he said. “They have to work hard to fill the stadium, so we’re going to play in college football and soccer stadiums. The average UFL ticket price will be $20. We’re going to provide affordable family entertainment.”

While the UFL’s official headquarters is in New York City, the 30-member operations staff will operate in Jacksonville in offices at the EverBank Building on Riverside Avenue.

Huyghue said the UFL’s business model is set up to take advantage of opportunities presented by the NFL while not attempting to compete directly for top players or the national television audience.

“The NFL is a perfect product,” he said. “You don’t take on the gorilla.”

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