The Tampa Bay Outlaws and the rest of the Professional Spring Football League could become a memory even before they become a reality. The league, scheduled to kick off its inaugural season Feb. 29 at Tampa Stadium, is scrambling to come up with enough money to last beyond this week.
"The situation at this point is that we need cash," commissioner Rex Lardner said from PSFL headquarters in New Jersey. "We have to meet the payroll by Monday, one way or another, or it's going to be tough to keep going.
"Our investors felt this venture was too high-risk for them, and the history of these (spring leagues) is that they have not done well. A lot of people are very interested (in investing), but they're waiting for us to kick the football.
"If we can just kick off, I think we'll have it made. Then we'll also have money coming in from ticket sales, merchandise sales and advertising."
The Outlaws, under coach Boyd Dowler, have been working out since Jan. 27 at the Northeast Complex, a converted baseball facility in St. Petersburg. The players' first paycheck is due Monday.
Dowler said he has scaled back practices to one-a-days without pads. "I don't want people getting hurt," he said. "We had some very concerned, very depressed football players here yesterday," referring to Tuesday, when word of the league's problems filtered through camp.
"From the beginning," Dowler said, "the players knew if they wanted to be here for the first year of this league, that there was no guarantee. That's the way first leagues are."
When PSFL founder/president Vincent Sette announced the creation of the league last September, he insisted he had $50-million in backing. On Wednesday he said a major investor had pulled out. With it, Sette said, went $3-million the PSFL needed to keep going until the end of the month.
Not all the franchises in the 10-team league (Tampa Bay, Utah, Boston, Washington, Miami, Columbia, S.C., Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Little Rock and Portland, Ore.) have been sold, Sette said, nor does the league have a TV contract.
The 16-week season is scheduled to begin Feb. 29 with Utah at the Outlaws and to end with the Red White and Blue Bowl on July 5. Rick Nafe, director of Tampa Stadium, said the PSFL has yet to sign a contract to use the stadium.
"We need it by the end of next week," Nafe said. "That's not a hard-and-fast deadline. Obviously we'd like to have them play here. But realistically, we'll need some time to get staffed and ready to go." He also said the league would have to come up with the $29,500 per-game license fee 72 hours before kickoff in order to use Tampa Stadium.
Rich Fried, co-owner of a New Jersey-based sports card company, paid a $250,000 licensing fee for the Tampa Bay franchise. In effect, he bought the rights to run a PSFL "branch office." The plan calls for the teams to be owned by the league, which pays the bills, including player salaries.
"All along, I always knew there was a risk the league would never kick off," Fried said. "We've overcome many obstacles to get within 18 days of a kickoff. Now I hope we can get over this hurdle."
Outlaws general manager Terry Bledsoe predicted: "The next 48 hours are going to be pivotal. (The PSFL) will ripen in 48 hours if it's going to ripen at all." He said the league's "expectations that the revenue was going to flow in as we went on were, as it turned out, unrealistic."
Bledsoe declined to say how many Outlaws season tickets have been sold. Lardner said Miami has sold about 2,500 and that other teams (he wouldn't identify them) have sold as few as 50.
Around the NFL
Broncos: The team elevated receivers coach George Henshaw to offensive coordinator and appointed Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry as quarterbacks coach.
Bears: The team has backed away from an earlier decision not to offer a 1992 contract to injured veteran left tackle Jim Covert.
49ers: Carl Jackson, an assistant coach at Iowa, was hired as running backs coach.
Dolphins: There is only a slim chance the squabbling Robbies will sell the team and no chance that coach Don Shula will be leaving after this year, club president Tim Robbie told the Miami Herald.
_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.