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Pro Football Weekly, June 1974


By Bill Wallace

In the face of terrible risks, a prospectus that would turn the stomach of the greatest high roller, the World Football League marches on. It deserves, if nothing else so far, four stars for boldness, for confidence, as it continues to peel the star players out of the NFL for money, more money.

'The WFL for sure will begin the 1974 season and certainly the 1975 campaign when the name players report, the Csonkas, Hills, Warfields, and Kwalicks. That it can reopen again in 1976 is another matter.

This is the entertainment business, with the stress on business. The key to the business of the WFL is television, a big fat contract to carry its heavy salary load.

In the first season WFL teams will have an operating budget of about $2.2 million. Its television contract, with the independent and modest TVS outfit, will return only $100,000 per team at best. The rest has to be made up at the gate with crowds of 28,000 to 30,000 needed for a break-even operation. (Tickets are NFL priced, about $7.50 each.)

TELEVISION NETWORK officials in New York see no chance for the WFL to gain the kind of contracts which sustain the NFL operation ($2.1 million per team beginning this season). The reasons are several.

  • The NFL is allied with all three national networks in new contracts which run through 1977.
  • Television programming is overloaded with sports, over 1,000 hours per year. Saturation is at hand as advertisers back off the less attractive offerings, like National hockey League, major league baseball, minor college bowl games.
  • The WFL projection of playing on Wednesday and Thursday nights, for television primarily puts the new league into direct competition with prime time programming and movies. Significant ratings will be hard to achieve, say network officials.

The WFL leadership believes it will shoulder its way onto national television, using as bait the signing of the stars like Ken Stabler, Daryle Lamonica and the Dolphins trio.

While the shouldering process goes on through 1974 and 1975, the WFL ownership must be prepared to spend millions. Do the owners have the funds and the will?

No one can say for sure. There seem to be weaknesses. The Detroit Wheels, for example, have 34 partners, none of them named Ford. The Houston and Philadelphia franchises also appear to be shy on capital and incapable of putting big money into escrow accounts to take name players from the NFL.

Some of the stadiums leave plenty to be desired with the New York Stars, for example, playing in Downing Stadium on Randalls Island, a worn-out facility which has been a graveyard for many pro enterprises. Washington had to move to Norfolk, Virginia to find a home. Detroit will be at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti for a starter.

The competition will be severe. The places that seem to have the best chance to draw at the gate are Chicago, where The Fire is giving the Bears a battle, and Birmingham, Alabama with an open marketplace.

DOES THE NFL care? Yes, it does because the WFL, even in failure, will raise considerably the salary structure. The NFL, however, believes it can weather the inroads, the jumpers, as every star can always be replaced. There is no shortage of players and ongoing teams make their own stars.

It is a compliment in a way to pro football's popularity that a new league can begin and add 12 more teams, six of them in cities where the NFL already exists.

Although there are no necessary parallels to the WFL (the old American League began in 1960 under vastly different and more promising circumstances.) It might be worthwhile to look at the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association, the other creations of WFL founder Gary L. Davidson. Several of the franchises are up for sale and foundering. If the economic climate of the nation continues to be cloudy, there may be a lot of athletes going into other lines of employment.