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Sports Illustrated, May 6, 1974

Midsummer's Night Kickoff

By William Leggett

A short, hyperactive 38-year-old man named Eddie Einhorn has been working very hard these past few weeks to rearrange your Thursday evening TV habits. If everything works out as Einhorn hopes, on the night of July 18 you will joyfully abandon summer reruns and return to your old love-live pro football, which at that point will have been missing from your home screen for practically six whole months. The game most likely will be between the Toronto Northmen and the New York Stars, coming to you from Toronto-the TV debut of the World Football League, that latest entry into the alphabet soup of American sport. Einhorn himself will be there, plus a crew of 30, six cameras and two slow-motion taping machines.

Thereafter-again if everything goes according to Einhorn's plans-you will be watching a WFL game from somewhere for the following 18 Thursday evenings in a row, or well into November.

Before air has been pumped into a single WFL ball, Einhorn and his independent "occasional" network called TVS have already cleared more than 80 stations to carry the games. Einhorn hopes to have as many as 130 by the time the league actually gets down to playing. That will mean, he says, that the action will be available to nearly 85% of the country. Einhorn has no doubt that the WFL can overcome whatever problems it has. "Who is going to play for Toronto until Csonka, Kiick and Warfield get there in 1975?" he was asked recently at a New York cocktail party. Without blinking an eye, he replied, "Three other guys!"

Wildly unlike ABC, CBS or NBC, TVS is basically a four-man operation that buys rights to sports events, draws up contracts with stations-both independents and network-affiliated-and sells commercial time to advertisers. Working out of offices on Park Avenue in New York, TVS has already brought in Fireman's Fund American Life Insurance Co., BankAmericard and Chevrolet as sponsors of the Thursday night games. For the telecast rights TVS expects to pay the WFL $1.5 million. In January that proposition seemed as

sound as putting screen doors on submarines. But odds are, says Einhorn that TVS will bring in some $5 million from sponsors; and he is confident that the new league will more than hold its own in the ratings. The WFL's regular schedule will be played Wednesday evenings, with one game each week, held back for TV on Thursday, an arrangement similar to the NFL's policy on Monday night football for ABC. Why Thursday? "On Thursdays," says Einhorn, "people will have stopped talking about last weekend's NFL games and won't have started talking about the games for next weekend."

Einhorn rejects the argument that football has reached the saturation point on television, the same question that was raised four years ago when ABC announced its scheme for Monday night games. "I get that overexposure stuff all the time," he says. "I'll believe football has reached the saturation point when advertisers stop being interested in it and when people aren't watching it in large numbers."

Einhorn is a man who came out of nowhere and edged his way, little by little, into the television industry. He grew up in Paterson, N.J., with a vast interest in most sports and an abiding one in college basketball. After attending the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University's School of Law he took over the family's insurance business when his father died suddenly. Then one day in 1961 he decided ("on the spur of the moment") to buy the rights to a basketball game between St. Bonaventure and Bradley being played at Madison Square Garden, and send it back to Buffalo and Peoria. The rights cost about $1,000 and Einhorn worked one of the microphones. "Made $400 on the game," he says, "but that was my last bit of serious announcing. I was glib enough but my voice quality was no good."

From that beginning, Einhorn kept plugging away, supported by his wife Ann's income as a hospital records librarian. "I didn't make a nickel for seven years," he says, "but I really felt that what I was trying to do would eventually catch on." He bought the TV rights of various college basketball conferences and in 1968 telecast that magnificent game between Houston and UCLA which drew 52,693 to the Astrodome to see the duel between Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes. More than 20 million watched it on the tube. TVS' profit was $50,000.

Today TVS owns the basketball rights of every major college conference except the ACC, as well as the top independents. Einhorn has enough Saturday afternoon regional games locked up to employ, on a free-lance basis, as many as 12 different producer-directors, 24 announcers and more than 200 technicians in a single day. In 1973 TVS did more than $5 million worth of business. This year three of its productions are up for Emmy nominations for achievement in sports programming. "It seems that I have been in the television business for 13 years and now I've become an overnight success," says Einhorn.

TVS has signed Merle Harmon and hopes to sign ex-Detroit Lion Alex Karras as announcers and will use guests as the third member of its WFL team. Women may make the scene at times and, if legally possible, some of those big-name next-year WFLers. "I believe that the WFL already has attained credibility," Einhorn says. "Our pitch to the stations and to advertisers is, 'Can you afford not to be in on it if it takes off?'"

Apparently not.