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Football In Hartford: UFL's Huyghue A True Believer


The Hartford Courant


When the Patriots were flirting with Connecticut 12 years ago, Hartford had one vocal supporter in an NFL front office.


Michael Huyghue, then a senior vice president with the Jacksonville Jaguars, told anyone who would listen that Greater Hartford was ready for professional football. As a Windsor native, Huyghue said he knew the region and insisted there was a strong base of football fans that would support a franchise.


While the Patriots never came, Huyghue never stopped touting Hartford. And today, he'll deliver a football franchise — albeit a minor league team in a fledgling league.


Huyghue, commissioner of the United Football League, will be at Rentschler Field in East Hartford for an 11 a.m. press conference to announce the relocation of the New York Sentinels to Hartford.


"I'm thrilled because I feel like I'm coming home to a market that I've always wanted to have a team in," Huyghue said Monday. "I think Hartford is an unbelievable market. And when you consider that we're moving the team from New York, when everybody says you have to have a team in New York ... I think that's a strong statement on just how good we feel about Hartford."


Since the UFL was born last year, Huyghue has continually cited Hartford as a future market. The Sentinels played one of their three home games at Rentschler last year and it was apparent Hartford would get a franchise, either through expansion or relocation.


For its second season, the league has committed to non-NFL markets. So the Sentinels, who played to sparse crowds at Giants Stadium and Hofstra, will put down roots in East Hartford and have a new name.


Immaculate-Danbury and Southern Connecticut graduate Chris Palmer, most recently the quarterbacks coach of the Giants, will be introduced as head coach. Palmer, who began his coaching career as an assistant at UConn, was the coach at New Haven in 1986-87.


Palmer also worked for the Jaguars when Huyghue was an executive in Jacksonville in the 1990s. Also part of Jacksonville's staff was UConn coach Randy Edsall.


"We lived in the same neighborhood," Huyghue said. "I know him very well."


Huyghue's relationship with Edsall is significant, since the UFL franchise will be sharing UConn's stadium. When the Sentinels played a game at Rentschler in November, Huyghue said the facility would need to switch from grass to field turf before the UFL arrived.


"Over time it will be changed, but not this season," Huyghue said. "I think for this first season, where it's only five games, we'll be able to work around the college schedule without any problem. We have an obligation financially to maintain the field in the same condition it was in when we used it, so the university is protected regardless. I think going forward, we'll want to work with [uConn] on some sort of resolution on some sort of artificial turf."


Besides the New York-to-Hartford shift, the UFL is expected to relocate the California Redwoods from the Bay Area to Sacramento and add two teams through expansion. San Antonio, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Louisville and Portland, Ore., have been mentioned as possibilities.


The ownership alignment will be the same — the league owns 50 percent of each franchise — and Hartford's franchise will still be owned by New York financier William Mayer. But teams will have a stronger base in their market this year, with players and staff based in local markets.


The league has also overhauled its marketing staff and more promotion will be handled by individual teams. And in an effort to be more interactive with fans, the league has improved its website. Today's press conference will be carried live on www.ufl-football.com.


The season will start in September and games will also be played on Friday and Saturday nights, after the league experimented with weeknights last year.


"Overall, we took away more positives than negatives from the first year," Huyghue said. "We really think our product is good and people will like what they see."

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Putting a "Minor League" team such as this is probably OK. It would be touchy in my opinion to put a true major league franchise of any sort there. Here are the Largest Metropolitan areas in the US with their rank:


New York/Newark 22,154,000

LA/Long Beach/Anaheim/Riverside 17,786,000

Chicago 9,973,000

Washington/Baltimore 8,295,000

Boston/Providence/Manchester 7,514,000

San Fran/San Jose/Oakland/Santa Cruz 7,354,000

Dallas/Ft. Worth 6,665,000

Philadelphia 6,398,000

Houston 5,829,000

Atlanta 5,729,000

Detroit/Flint/Ann Arbor 5,354,000

Miami/Ft. Lauderdale 5,414,000

Phoenix 4,281,000

Seattle/Tacoma 4,087,000

Minneapolis/St. Paul 3,562,000

Cleveland/Akron/Canton 3,293,000

Denver 3,049,000

San Diego 3,001,000

St. Louis 2,879,000

Tampa/St. Pete 2,733,000

Orlando/Daytona 2,718,000

Pittsburgh 2,441,000

Sacramento 2,417,000

Charlotte 2,338,000

Portland, Ore. 2,207,000

Cincinnati/Middletown 2,198,000 (does not include Dayton)

Kansas City 2,070,000

Indianapolis 2,035,000

San Antonio 2,031,000

Columbus 2,002,000

Las Vegas 1,910,000

Milwaukee/Racine 1,748,000

Salt Lake/Ogden 1,717,000

Austin 1,697,000

Raleigh/Durham 1,690,000

Virginia Beach/Norfolk 1,658,000

Nashville/Murfreesboro 1,632,000

Greensboro/Winston Salem 1,552,000

Louisville 1,380,000

Grand Rapids 1,324,000

Jacksonville 1,313,000

Hartford 1,307,000

Memphis 1,285,000

Oklahoma City 1,275,000

Buffalo 1,203,000

New Orleans 1,179,000

Green Bay 302,000


The cities in red represent those that do not have a team in any of the 4 major sports. In terms of thinking of a sports market, Greensboro/Winston Salem may be added to the Raleigh market, and Austin and San Antonio, being only 70 miles apart may be considered a single market. That leaves Las Vegas and the Norfolk/Va. Beach areas as the largest areas without any sort of major league team. Before Hartford should be considered for any major league team, I think you have to look at these areas first. Though it sits about 120 miles equidistant from NYC and Boston, it may be fair to say that it is close enough to each to not be deprived of having a team close enought to have a rooting interest in.

Virginia Beach/Norfolk would be a better choice in my view as it sits over 200 miles away from the nearest major league market. Even a Grand Rapids is a larger market and sits 150 miles away from Detroit, its closest major league market.

Louisville is kind of a tweener market. It isn't large enough on its own nor far away enought from Cinci or Indy to be attractive as a major league expansion market.

The idjits that run these leagues, and their broadcast partners of course are all about maximizing revenue.

If you think about it though, if the NBA/NFL etc. simply wanted to do a straight population based location of their teams, then they should probably have had like 5-6 teams in NY and LA. Put one in Manhattan, in The Bronx, in Queens, in Brooklyn, in Jersey, in Connecticut, on Long Island, on Staten Island. Having a team in each one of these areas would still give each one a larger fan base than having a team in Buffalo, Jacksonville, etc.

Come to think of it, why shouldn't the next major league team that threatens to want to move horn in on NYC? Do the Yankees truly deserve to have a fan base 5-10 times larger than that of the Kansas City Royals?

How does the New Jersey Royals sound?

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In reading your post a little more closely, I think I perceive what may be going on with the UFL: They are following the pattern originally set up in the 60s by the AFL.

They are locating teams in a number of the largest non-NFL markets. You can see from my list that Las Vegas, Sacramento, Portland, San Antonio, Salt Lake, Louisville, Orlando (which is where I believe the "Florida Tuskers" play) are all the largest Non-NFL cities essentially.

My suspicion is that one day before too many more years pass, this UFL may want to graduate to a "major League" by even picking off some NFL big name players to play for them.

That is not their expressed intent right now, but don't you see this coming down the road?

If I were them, I would slap a team in the LA area right now to establish some loyalty with the fan base there.

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