The new USFL is set to debut in mid-April, but plans to revitalize spring football may be on hold. Several former team owners and executives from the old USFL are suing Fox over the new league using the same name and moniker as the original United States Football League that existed from 1983 to 1986.
Fox argues that the original USFL abandoned its trademarks after being defunct for nearly 30 years, and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit determined the "false narrative" that the eight teams and league name are derived from the original USFL. The former USFL owners argue that permission was needed, and a complaint was filed Monday in a California federal court seeking to prevent Fox from using the original name, as well as the names and logos of any of the original USFL teams.
"Fox could have easily started its own league with new teams, but instead chose to take the goodwill and nostalgia of the original league without the permission of the people who actually created it," attorney Alex Brown said, via Pro Football Talk. "Fox can't dispute that the 'Real USFL' marks are recognizable and valued because they're using them and purposefully confusing its league with the original.
"Rather than do the right thing, Fox has chosen to try and bully the prior owners into submission. That's not going to happen."
The original USFL debuted in 1983 and lasted three seasons. The league launched the careers of Hershel Walker, Reggie White, and many others due to competitive salaries that trumped what NFL players were making at the time. No hard salary cap led to unsustainable payrolls that contributed to the league's destruction. The league started with 12 teams and had a territorial draft, to load up rosters with familiar local collegiate stars to attract fans.
Eventually shutting down in 1986, the USFL voted to move from a spring to fall schedule to eventually compete with the NFL -- an attempt to force a merger between the leagues. The USFL won an antitrust lawsuit against the league as the NFL violated anti-monopoly laws, but the USFL won just $1 -- and shut down in the ensuing months.
The new version of the USFL is using the same names as the original version in the 1980s. The league chose eight franchises that were also in the original USFL and allegedly retained rights to key original team names. The league updated the logos for the original teams last month, which included new uniforms that are supposed to make their debut come April.
Unless this lawsuit is settled in the coming weeks, the new USFL will have to pivot -- fast.