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1980s / United States Football League
Sports history has shown that it is very difficult for nascent pro sports leagues to challenge old, established ones. Nevertheless, there are entrepreneurs always willing to try. From 1983 through 1985 the United States Football League existed as a spring/summer league. The USFL was the brainchild of David Dixon, a New Orleans antique dealer. In 1980, Dixon commissioned a study by Frank Magid Associates that found promising results for a spring and summer football league. He'd also formed a blueprint for the prospective league's operations, which included early television exposure, heavy promotion in home markets, and owners willing to absorb years of losses—-which he felt would be inevitable until the league found its feet. The USFL secured television contracts from both ABC and ESPN. The league also was able to sign several collegiate stars--most notably Herschel Walker who was still an underclassman. Mostly, however, the public responded with yawns. Television ratings and overall attendance were below expectations. Teams often spent far more than the proposed $1.8 million salary cap to land big-name players. In three seasons, 23 different teams played under the USFL banner. The Breakers were a typical USFL franchise, operating in three different cities (Boston, New Orleans, and Portland) over the three years. Teams typically wallowed in debt. The San Antonio Gunslingers were in such dire straits that some players, whose pay checks had bounced, were exchanging their complimentary game tickets for food and were boarding at the homes of sympathetic fans. The USFL was dealt its death blow in a courtroom in 1986 when it won an antitrust lawsuit versus the National Football League--but the jury awarded the USFL only $3 in damages. Still, some USFL innovations were evenutally adopted by the NFL. These included the two-point conversion, the use of instant replay to assist officials, and a salary cap.