On May 24, 1982, the United States Football League (USFL) reached an agreement with ABC and ESPN on television rights. The money for inaugural 1983 season would be a total of $13 million: $9 million from ABC and $4 million from ESPN (roughly $1.1 million per team).
ABC televised a Sunday afternoon game-of-the-week, one prime time evening game, plus coverage of the USFL divisional playoffs and championship game. The contract required the USFL to schedule a minimum of three games on Sunday, with ABC guaranteed to broadcast one game nationally (the aforementioned, Sunday afternoon game-of-the-week) or two or more regionally. The contract included no clauses regarding "blackouts" or "cross-feeding". In all, the total package with ABC called for 21 telecasts of USFL action. Meanwhile, ESPN generally televised two prime time games (on Saturdays and Mondays respectively) each week of the USFL season.
The first professional football game to ever be broadcast on ESPNEdit
On Monday, March 7, 1983 the Michigan Panthers opened their 1983 schedule with a 9-7 win at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama against the Stallons. The game marked the first professional football game ever to be broadcast on ESPN. Novo Bojovic of Serbia hit the winning field goal from 48 yards out in the waning moments to preserve the Panthers' road win.
The first USFL game on ABCEdit
The end of the USFL itselfEdit
ABC offered the USFL a 4 year, $175 million dollar TV deal to play in the spring in 1986. ESPN offered $70M over 3 years. Following all the mergers and shutdowns, there just were not enough spring football advocates left in the league to accept those contracts. The owners in the league walked away from what averaged out to $67 million per year starting in 1986 to pursue their big picture --- merger with the NFL.
In 1984, the league began discussing the possibility of competing head-to-head with the NFL by playing its games in the fall beginning in 1986. The idea was to force a merger in which the NFL would be forced to admit some USFL teams. Despite the protests of many of the league's "old guard," who wanted to stay with the original plan of playing football in the spring months, the voices of Chicago owner Eddie Einhorn and Generals owner Donald Trump and others would eventually prevail. Trump sold a majority of the other owners on the gamble that if a merger did occur, their teams would instantly be worth the $70 million or so NFL franchises were worth at that time --- tripling, quadrupling, or more their cash investment.
On October 18, 1984, the league's owners voted to go along with Einhorn and Trump's idea and begin playing a fall season in 1986. The spring advocates had lost and the fall advocates would accept nothing less than victory vs. the NFL, either by forcing a merger or winning a sizeable settlement and securing a TV network for fall broadcasts. Spring football had been replaced with an incredibly risky gamble for a huge return.
In another effort to keep themselves afloat while at the same time attacking the more established National Football League, the USFL filed an antitrust lawsuit against the older league, claiming it had established a monopoly with respect to television broadcasting rights, and in some cases, to access of stadium venues.
The USFL claimed that the NFL had bullied ABC, CBS and NBC into not televising USFL games in the fall. It also claimed that the NFL had a specific plan to eliminate the USFL, the "Porter Presentation." In particular, the USFL claimed the NFL conspired to ruin the Invaders and Generals. The USFL sought damages of $567 million, which would have been tripled to $1.7 billion under antitrust law. It hoped to void the NFL's contracts with the three major networks. The USFL proposed two remedies: either force the NFL to negotiate new television contracts with only two networks, or force the NFL to split into two competing 14-team leagues, each limited to a contract with one major network.
According to an ABC spokesman, the network averaged a 6.0 rating for their first USFL season. This was slightly better than the network's coverage of the first American Football League football season back in 1960. In its second year, AFL games on ABC averaged a 6.1 rating, and in 1962, the third year, a 6.5.
Overall, ESPN averaged a 3.3 rating for its USFL coverage, a 3.0 for Saturday games and a 3.5 for the Monday night coverage. "We are pretty pleased with the results", said an ESPN spokesman, who noted that the network's overall USFL rating average was almost 50% higher than its prime time average for their entire fourth quarter of 1982.
ABC claimed to have made a profit from its coverage of USFL during the 1983 season. Regular season 30-second spots were priced at $30,000; playoff spots at $35,000. Thirty second spots for the championship game between the Michigan Panthers and the Philadelphia Stars played on July 17 sold for $60,000. Major sponsors throughout the season included Gallo, Anheuser Busch, Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge, Honda and Miller.
Franchises most affected by the television coverageEdit
ABC's contract with the league required that, at the very least, there had to be franchises in the Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York markets. Not coincidentally, these markets were home to ABC's best-performing owned-and-operated stations.
Before the end of the 1984 season, it was announced that the Blitz would be shut down. Chicago White Sox part-owner Eddie Einhorn was awarded a new Chicago franchise. While it was stressed that this new franchise was not the Blitz, Einhorn retained all player contracts. A strong proponent of the USFL's planned move to the fall in 1986, he opted not to field a team in 1985. ABC had no objections to this move, probably due to the USFL's anemic ratings in Chicago.
Just after Mouse Davis took over as head coach, the USFL announced that it would switch to a fall schedule for the 1986 season. Local support for the Gold practically vanished. While the Gold had been one of the USFL's attendance leaders, fans in the Denver area were not about to abandon the Broncos in favor of the Gold. Despite finally getting into the playoffs with an 11-7 record, the Gold's attendance crashed to 14,400 fans per game. As a result, despite finishing second in the Western Conference, they were forced to play on the road against the lower-seeded Memphis Showboats under pressure from ABC. The network, who had considerable influence over the USFL due to the structuring of the league's television contract, did not want the embarrassment of having a game played in a near-empty Mile High Stadium.
Los Angeles ExpressEdit
The team never drew well at the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, even in their breakthrough 1984 season. The low attendance figures began to prove very embarrassing and frustrating both to the league and ABC, which had hoped for a more credible product to emanate from the nation's second-largest media market. The team had to play its last home game at Los Angeles Pierce College, a small junior college in the San Fernando Valley.
The Arizona Wranglers, despite having the worse record of the two participating teams, got to host the 1984 Western Conference championship game because the Coliseum was being prepared for the 1984 Summer Olympics. To accommodate Arizona's oppressive summer heat, as well as the ABC Sports television schedule, the game kicked off at 8:30 p.m. local time, 11:30 p.m. Eastern time.
- Keith Jackson/Lynn Swann
- Jim Lampley/Lee Corso (Lee Corso was also an analyst for ESPN's USFL coverage)
- Tim Brant/Lee Grosscup
- Bill Flemming/Ron Mix
ESPN used Tom Mees as a studio anchor.
|This article is incomplete. (December 2009)|
|Houston Gamblers||Bill Worrell||KHTV|
|New Jersey Generals||WPIX|
|Pittsburgh Maulers||John Sanders||KDKA|
|Tampa Bay Bandits||Randy Scott||WTOG|
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