Are You Ready For Some Football? The Team Is Named 'The California Redwoods.' Still Ready?

Joe Eskenazi
UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue smiles while California Redwoods owner Paul Pelosi shows off what is either a large Jolly Rancher candy or his team's road uniform
A superstitious person would have picked up bad, teal and lime green vibes at the just-concluded AT&T Park press conference announcing the name of San Francisco's team in the nascent United Football League. First, as he stepped up to the podium, league commissioner Michael Huyghue inadvertently knocked one of the decorative footballs to the ground. "First fumble of the year," he quipped.

Then, describing how his league had a brighter outlook than previous, vain attempts to establish alternative professional sports organizations, Huyghue unfortunately noted that the UFL is "different from other failed leagues." Yikes -- the ball is loose! 

Subtle harbingers of doom aside, Huyghue and San Francisco team owner Paul Pelosi executed themselves well when explaining why they feel the UFL won't join the alphabet soup of defunct leagues littering the sporting graveyard. But it's quite possible to have a decent business model -- while dressing badly and having a funny name. And that's what the California Redwoods football club have got. Let's get to the moniker and sartorial section first, and the business section second. 

Joe Eskenazi
Home duds
The Redwoods' team colors appear to be teal, Jolly Rancher green, and silver. League officials insisted that this was not teal but light blue. Every woman in my office identified it as teal, however. So it's teal.

All UFL uniforms are designed on a template by the company GameWear, which UFL senior marketing director Frank Vuono notes has previously designed jerseys for a number of big-time high schools and "Division-III colleges you haven't heard of." The uniforms look well put-together -- but this template screams "Arena League" and these colors are better suited for a Volkswagen Cabriolet than on the back of a 275-pound football player. Also, why lime green? Wouldn't forest green be better for a team named after a tree -- or any team?

As for the name, Pelosi noted that the Redwood is a "strong and enduring symbol of the beauty of the region" and are long-lived -- as he hopes his team will be. Fair enough -- but, Indiana State aside, it bodes poorly to name an athletic team after a hulking, sedentary object (insert Drew Bledsoe or Bengie Molina joke here). As for the "California" portion of the name, that has two purposes. First of all, the term "California Redwoods" is already part of the vernacular, like "Baltimore Oriole" or "Chicago Fire." Second -- and more importantly -- it means that this team can play anywhere in Northern California and not have to change its stationery.

Following the press conference, Pelosi told SF Weekly that the team's lease with AT&T Park is only for this year. "I don't know where we're going to end up," he said. "Given the state of things, I don't know." If the 49ers stay in San Francisco -- then the Redwoods could move to Santa Clara. Or to San Jose, or Sacramento. Or anywhere. "We're a Northern California team," assures Pelosi. So one guesses that City of Industry is not on the short list -- but who knows?

Joe Eskenazi
Road duds
So far, two of the league's four initial teams have announced their names (and logos come in September): The Las Vegas Locomotives and the California Redwoods. Orlando and New York will have their names revealed in the next two days. To cut to the chase, why have the team names been so bad, despite more than 35,000 fan submissions? In a word: trademarking. Vuono told us that, after whittling the suggestions down to 10 or 20, most didn't pass muster with the league's intellectual properties lawyers. Huyghue added that a number of good names have been trademarked by individuals hoping to prey on "teams who don't do their due dilligence." But any complaints from San Francisco fans about naming the team after a damn tree have to be tempered by the fact that "San Francisco Rockfish" was in the running.

Names aside, how is the UFL different from the "other failed leagues"? Huyghue and Pelosi were ready for this question. Huyghue cited "strong local ownership" -- which is a nice thing to do when the owner is standing next to you. But, more to the point, the league has owners who will be fiscally responsible and not break the bank with massive contracts like USFL owners did nearly 30 years ago. The league minimum salary is $35,000 and most players will not earn six figures.

The UFL has modest goals -- though even these modest goals are risky and expensive. While Pelosi was loath to use comparisons to a developmental league or a minor league, the UFL will serve as a showcase for younger players who didn't make the cut on a pro team or older pros who want to show they've still got a bit left in the tank. The six-game season is short enough -- and timed well in the Fall -- that standout players could be picked up by NFL squads. And the promised average ticket price of $20 is about 40 percent what you'd pay at a 49ers game.

Pelosi hopes to break even by the third year, when the league is up for a new TV contract. He said that the "maximum exposure" of all four team owners was around $60 million, total -- and he anticipated spending about $6 million this year and "significantly less" next year. And, finally, his economic projections assume 20,000 folks will straggle into AT&T Park for the games -- which seems a doable number.

So success, even in this economic climate, seems possible. But that the team has an unintentionally humorous name and unappealing uniforms -- that's inarguable.

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