Broadcasting, Nov 26, 1984 v107 p63(1)
Full Text: COPYRIGHT Reed Publishing USA 1984
A new look for the two-year-old United States Football League, in an effort to strengthen its competitive image, was unveiled for the spring 1985 season during a news conference in New York last week. It calls for two seven-team conferences (Eastern and Western) with eight teams qualifying for post-season play. Other changes for next year include the "consolidation" of the Michigan Panthers (Detroit) into the Oakland Invaders and the Oklahoma Outlaws into the Arizona Wranglers (Phoenix); the New Orleans Breakers move to Portland, Ore., and the Philadelphia Stars (which includes a merger with the Pittsburgh Maulers) move to Baltimore; the formation of the Orlando (Fla.) Renegades, and a one-year shutdown period for the Chicago Blitz. (Chicago will restock itself for 1986 with players trough the draft.)
USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons also reiterated the club owners' support for the the league's highly publicized plans to move to a fall schedule beginning in 1986, allowing it to compete head-on with the National Football League (NFL). According to Eddie einhorn, owner of the Chicago Blitz and television rights negotiator for the USFL, the NFL television rights package totals $500 million. "There's got to be a piece of the pie out there for us," Einhorn said.
"ABC television was the only network interested in us for spring play. With that limitation, the move to the fall was studied," said Einhorn. (ABC has renewed its contract with the league through 1986, but it has ruled out a fall package.)
Einhorn said the USFL is having "continuing" discussions with both CBS and NBC for fall 1986 rights, and "fully expects" a decision in the next few months. ESPN, which said it will accommodate a move by the USFL to fall, has renewed its contract with the USFL for three years through 1987 for $70 million.
Sagging television ratings and a large number of no-shows at NFL games can be addressed by increasing the entertainment value of pro football, said Simmons. "We offer [television networks] an exciting product that is nowhere near the price for the NFL," he said. Simmons added that more than 400 million people, cumulatively, watched USFL games on television in 1984 (on ABC and ESPN).
Industry sources agree the creation of two different conferences should make the USFL more attractive to the networks. Neal Pilson, group executive vice president responsible for CBS Sports, said the network's first allegiance remains to the NFL. But he acknowledged the company was reviewing the USFL's plans for a fall move and said CBS would be interested in sharing a package with another network (BROADCASTING, Nov. 12).
Simmons told BROADCASTING that negotiations are also ongoing with the major radio networks for a national rights package. ABC held the exclusive network radio rights for the USFL's first two years of play at a cost of $1.25 million ("Riding Gain," Dec. 13, 1982). ABC still remains the most interested in USFL, said Simmons.
Regarding the USFL's $1.32-billion anti-trust lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal district court againt the NFL (BROADCASTING, Oct. 22), attorney Roy M. Cohn said the suit is moving "full-steam" ahead and noted that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was subpoenaed to give an oral deposition on Dec. 13 regarding any NFL activities related to that USFL. "In three weeks, we will ask the judge for a trial date," he said.
Cohn also told the press group about a letter sent to NFL attorneys on Nov. 12 alleging the NFL and certain NFL member clubs had approached city and stadium officials in some USFL franchised markets in an attempt to unseat the USFL team by promising the community an NFL team. Cohn declined to give more detail, but said there were four specific examples of this behavior. All of the USFL's 14 club owners were present for the news briefing.
An NFL spokesman dismissed USFL's allegations as "utter nonsense" with no substance.
Simmons, responding to a question of whether he will soon step down as USFL commissioner, said he plans to honor the remaining two years of his contract. All of the USFL's 14 club owners were present for the news briefing.