Television was an essential part of Dixon's plans from the beginning, and the deals made with ABC and ESPN almost lived up to his expectations.  Each of the USFL's 12 teams for 1983 would receive a total of $ 1.1 million in television rights fees - a figure that represented 70% of the $ 1.56 million Dixon had projected for first-year player salaries.  If USFL teams managed to attract the 25,000 fans per game Dixon had projected, and if team owners could keep their expenses reasonable, the league would be a winner.

Rather than to get excited at the prospect of their new venture being telecast nationally on both network and cable television however, USFL team owners were almost immediately upset over the deal Trager had negotiated for them.  The devil was in the details:  the league was required to make 3 of its games each week available for Sunday telecast (half of its 1983 schedule), with the network entitled to broadcast either one game nationally, or two regionally, at its discretion.  Worse still was that no "blackout" provisions existed - if for example, the Bandits played the Stallions in Birmingham and ABC wanted to air the game as its sole USFL telecast of the week, fans in Birmingham could see their home team simply by staying home and tuning in to their ABC affiliate.

Further complicating the ABC/USFL relationship was ABC's right to alter the league schedule itself, a forerunner of sorts to today's "flex scheduling" used by the NFL:  if that Bandits-Stallions game was originally scheduled for Saturday, ABC could force it to be played on Sunday to accommodate telecast.  Finally, the ABC deal was contingent on the USFL keeping active franchises in the nation's three largest television markets:  New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  While this didn't raise any eyebrows initially, by 1984 it would be an issue and by 1985 this provision would cost the USFL's owners millions.  The television contract so sought by Dixon, one that should have been seen as a lifeline for the USFL in 1983, had by 1985 become perceived as a noose around the league's neck.  Countless efforts to renegotiate terms of the ABC deal, and even the threat of lawsuits by the league, held no sway with ABC.  Instead, it only served to alienate the network, making it less inclined to reach a new agreement for any version of the USFL, spring or fall.

The perception of the USFL as a "made for television" league was further imprinted when Simmons, who had less than a year earlier been approached by Mike Trager regarding putting USFL games on ESPN, was hired as the league's first commissioner.  Simmons brought decades of broadcasting experience, both through ESPN and through service as President of NBC Sports.  Simmons also played a role in putting a prior pro football league - the AFL - on national television in the 1960's.

Dixon's plan included features for the USFL that were truly innovative:  playing games from March to July, implementing a territorial draft that allowed its teams exclusive access to local talent that would help at the gate, tuition assistance for players who wished to continue their educations in preparation for their life after football, a 20-game regular season schedule (later pared down to 18 games), and extensive marketing and public relations.

The involvement of others in the USFL further enhanced the perception that the USFL was going to be "major league:"  legendary head coach George Allen would be head coach of the Chicago franchise and would own part of the team.  Revered former Denver Bronco head coach Red Miller was hired to guide the Denver Gold's panning for victories.  In Tampa, John Bassett took a different approach, hiring Steve Spurrier.  Only 37 he was young for a head coach but Spurrier had a different quality in his favor - he was a Florida football legend, winning the 1966 Heisman Trophy before a decade long NFL career that came to a close with the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Both Washington and Los Angeles opted to trek north in search for their head coaches - Ray Jauch joining the Federals and Hugh Campbell, fresh off his Edmonton Eskimos' unprecedented fifth consecutive Grey Cup victory, joining the L.A. Express.

By March 6, 1983, the vision that David Dixon had in 1965 had taken root and blossomed into an entirely new concept - a professional football league that played in the spring.  Had it stayed true to that original vision, who knows what the USFL might have become.  Instead, others would make their own imprint on the USFL, shoving its founding father aside and eventually his entire vision along with it.

.

<< Return to "In the Beginning..." <<

USFL.INFO - Copyright 2007 - The McIntire Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.
The names, nicknames, logos, uniform designs, slogans, photographs, audio and video recordings, and any other intellectual properties
utilized in USFL.INFO are used on a "Fair Use" basis, without intent of profit.  Such intellectual properties are retained by their respective holders.