The good news for the United States Football League?
The games can go on as planned, with all the names, logos and nostalgia of the original USFL (1983-85) that fans in Birmingham loved.
A group of former team owners and executives from the original USFL filed a lawsuit against Fox Sports, which owns the new USFL, claiming “trademark infringement, false advertising and false association by the new league,’’ and was seeking an injunction to prevent Fox Sports from using any of the names and logos associated with the original USFL.
The case was supposed to be heard Monday, but a federal judge last week refused to block Fox Sports from launching its new USFL Saturday with the current names and logos.
That’s good news for Fox, for the USFL and for Birmingham, which hosts the eight-team league this spring in its entirety.
The USFL kicks off its inaugural season at 6:30 p.m. today with the Birmingham Stallions hosting the New Jersey Generals at Protective Stadium. Tickets are $10, and the game will be broadcast on both Fox and NBC.
The rest of the league springs into action Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. with the Houston Gamblers vs. the Michigan Panthers, followed by a 3 p.m. game between the Philadelphia Stars and New Orleans Breakers, and a 7 p.m. closer between the Tampa Bay Bandits and Pittsburgh Maulers.
Every regular-season game for the entire league will be played in Birmingham, a total of 43 games that will be played at either Protective or Legion Field.
Every broadcast will showcase the city of Birmingham, and every game will be televised on some form of national TV. And it is written into the contracts that every block of TV will feature two commercials promoting Birmingham.
The court case by the old USFL was one potential stumbling block, but U.S. District Judge John Walter ruled there was little risk of “irreparable harm” in allowing the games to go forward. In essence, Walter said that the old USFL has been basically inactive for the past 40 years, and the legacy of the old league is “virtually nonexistent,” with the sale of licensed goods amounting to less than $20,000 in 20 years.
According to the Sports Business Journal, Walter did rule that there may be a “legitimate chance of market confusion, and that the old USFL has some degree of protected interest in the marks,” which could mean that Fox has to pay the old USFL for the privilege of using the names and logos.
Fox Sports had argued that the old USFL had abandoned its rights through lack of use, and that The Spring League, which was acquired by Fox Sports before launching the new league, legitimately obtained the marks in '11. Fox Sports declined to comment on the ruling.
So, it's back to football for the USFL.
With a new league, new players and only three weeks to put this show together, what this product will look like is anyone’s guess. The playbooks will be limited initially, but as the teams start to play and teammates and coaches begin to work together, the quality should improve dramatically.
However, that doesn’t stop oddsmakers from making predictions. According to CBSsports.com and Caesars Sportsbook, the Tampa Bay Bandits are the favorites to win the league. Head coach Todd Haley was the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2012 to 2017 and will be working with former Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta'amu, who was the No. 2 pick in the USFL draft. He also has the much-traveled former Auburn quarterback-turned-receiver John Franklin III, who played at Florida State, Auburn and Florida Atlantic, with a stop in between FSU and Auburn at East Mississippi Junior College where he was featured prominently in the first season of the Netflix documentary Last Chance U.
The Michigan Panthers are considered the second-best team, coached by former Tennessee Titans and Rams coach Jeff Fisher, and on the field have former Old Miss/Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson.
The New Orleans Breakers are rated the third-best team by CBSSports.com, followed by the Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Maulers, Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers and New Jersey Generals.
But none of these teams are considered to be that far apart from one another, and given that they’ve all only been together for three weeks, have been living together in Birmingham hotels, seeing each other every day around town and are all facing the same challenges of figuring out the expectations of the coaches and each other, it is almost impossible to determine exactly who will come together most quickly and which players will have a lasting impact on the field.
That, and the entertainment value of this being a made-for-TV league, should make this a lot of fun.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email email@example.com.