U.S. News & World Report, Aug 11, 1986 v101
Full Text: COPYRIGHT U.S. News and World Report Inc. 1986
USFL heading for the showers?
A jury of five women and one man threw the U.S. Football League for a big loss in a do-or-die antitrust suit against the National Football League. The result: It looks like die.
The July 29 verdict in a New York federal court could well signal the end of the USFL--which claims it has lost $163 million in three seasons trying to compete with the rich, established NFL.
Owners of the USFL's eight surviving teams meet in early August in New York to discuss whether to play on. "It doesn't look good for us playing this season," said Fred Bullard, co-owner of the Jacksonville Bulls.
The verdit capped a 21-month battle in which the USFL sought $1.7 billion in antitrust damages from the NFL. Jurors cleared the NFL on all but one of the monopoly charges--and awarded the USFL precisely $1 in damages, which will be automatically tripled under antitrust law.
For football fans, the verdict promised to bring changes on and off the field. As early as this fall, such USFL stars as Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly and Kelvin Bryant could be shifted into the NFL. The way could be paved for later NFL expansion, which has been on hold pending the outcome of the lawsuit. Jacksonville, in particular, may cite attendance of 44,319 a game to gain an NFL franchise. Other USFL cities that covet an NFL team are Baltimore, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando and Phoenix. The NFL is already established in New York City and Tampa, the homes of the two other USFL franchises.
If the USFL does fold, players would be the biggest losers. Not only would there be fewer football jobs, but salary inflation could slow. The bidding war between the two leagues helped boost NFL salary averages from $102,250 in 1982 to $193,300 last season.
The jury exonerated the NFL on one crucial charge: That it conspired with the three television networks to block the USFL from a broadcasting contract. The new league, which planned to shift this year from spring to fall play with season openers September 13, pinned its survival hopes on a TV deal as well as on large antitrust damages from the NFL.
If the verdit withstands USFL legal maneuvers, it will have neither--and USFL owners will face a choice of disbanding or suffering through another season of meager attendance and heavy losses. Gloated Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the NFL Washington Redskins: "I'd like to be the one to present the USFL with three crisp $1 bills."