World Football League (partially found radio and television coverage of football games; 1974-1975)

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World Football League TVS intro.

Status: Partially Found

The World Football League (WFL) is a now-defunct American football league operating from 1974 to 1975. Intending to compete with the NFL and generate international attention to the game, the WFL experienced an unsuccessful first season in 1974, before financial issues led to its 1975 season-ending abruptly. In its short lifespan, the WFL had secured television deals with the TVS Television Network and HBO Sports, in addition to providing its own radio coverage and granting radio broadcast rights to local stations. However, the majority of radio and television coverage for the league has since been declared missing.


The WFL was established on 2nd October 1973 by Californian businessman Gary L. Davidson.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] Prior to WFL's formation, Davidson had started the American Basketball Association in 1967, and later the World Hockey Association in 1972.[1][2][3][4][5][7] Both sports organisations were designed to challenge the NBA and NHL respectively.[2] Having achieved success with both, Davidson soon began devising plans to rival the NFL, which by 1970 had no real competition following its merger with the AFL.[8][2][7] With financial backing from sports team owners Robert Schmertz, Howard Baldwin, Ben Hatskin, R. Steve Arnold, and John Bassett Jr., Davidson devised a few key objectives for the league.[1][2] He felt professional football could become a worldwide sport, expanding into other countries in North America before penetrating Europe and Asia.[2][3] Davidson believed that by 1980, the WFL would have teams situated in key cities of the world, including but not limited to London, Paris, and Tokyo.[3]

Secondly, he identified a possible gap in the football market: the absence of games being played on Thursdays.[9][10][2] Thus, the WFL struck a $1.5 million deal on 4th April 1974 with the TVS Television Network, which syndicated coverage to independent stations.[9][10] This deal gave TVS television rights to nationally televise a league game per week called "Game of the Week", occurring during Thursday night time slots.[9][10][6] In return, TVS was expected to generate $80,000-$100,000 for every team.[11] Of more than 180 TVS-affiliated independent stations, 117 showcased games per week, giving the WFL access to around 80 percent of the United States.[9] The 25th July 1974 broadcast of the New York Stars-Philadelphia Bell encounter made television history, as Jane Chastain became the first woman to commentate on a nationally televised football game.[6][9] A smaller TV deal was forged with HBO Sports, who covered games to cable subscribers living within New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.[12] Additionally, $170,000 was obtained for local television rights of WFL teams, while $158,000 was negotiated for local radio rights.[13] The most substantial radio deal was its linkup with the World Sports Broadcast Network, establishing the World Football League Radio Network.[6] Initially consisting of 29 stations, it expanded to 118 near the 1974's end, and to 125 by 1975.[6]

The league was set to commence in 1975.[2][7] However, before its own season began, the NFL was embroiled in a player strike concerning contract disputes.[14][2][5][7] Among conflicts included the demand to remove the Rozelle Rule that limited free agency unless buying teams compensated the player's previous team.[15][14][5] While the strike proved short-lived and was generally unsuccessful, it did convince some WFL team owners to persuade the league to start a year early, in a bid to convince NFL players to jump ship.[14][2][5][7] Initially, this plan succeeded, convincing over 60 NFL players to sign contracts with WFL teams thanks to bigger contracts and free agency.[2][5] The biggest initial coup was 1973 NFL first draft pick and Houston Oilers defensive end John Matuszak, who upon becoming outraged over the NFL's poor player management, ignored his Oilers deal to play with the Houston Texans.[2][7] His Texans career was short-lived as a restraining order was placed on him during his seventh game with the team.[2][7] Other legal wranglings involved John Bassett's attempts to form a Toronto team, which was blocked by Canada's government to avoid affecting the Canadian Football League.[2][7] Thus, the team relocated to Memphis to become the Memphis Southmen.[2][7]

1974 Season

Other NFL players signed future deals that would begin upon fulfilling their current NFL contracts, as the WFL deals generally paid better than the NFL ones.[2][5] Such was its heavy recruitment drive that it caused minor leagues the Atlantic Coast Football League and Seaboard Football League to close due to a lack of players.[4] With 12 franchises supposedly investing $120,000 each, including Hawaii-based team The Hawaiians, it appeared the league was set for long-term success.[2][1][7] Initial attendance figures and television ratings reflected this, with the opening July games generating an average of 43,000 fans, and TVS broadcasts attracting over nine million viewers by Week 13 across 117 television stations.[2][3][9][7] However, analysis of attendance figures indicated a large portion of fans entered the stadiums with free tickets or at a severely reduced price.[16][1][7][3] Particularly, the Philadelphia Bell confessed that of around 120,000 fans who attended its two opening games at the JFK Stadium, just 20,000 paid full price.[16][7][1][2][3] The scandal over highly-inflated paid attendances led to the situation being labelled as "Papergate".[16][1][3][7][2]

More concerningly, it was revealed not all 12 teams actually paid the $120,000 to become a franchise, the WFL having reduced restrictions so that 12 teams could be fielded in a short period of time.[2] Several teams were exceptionally underfunded, meaning even paying for basic necessities like food and uniforms became financially taxing.[2][1][3][5][7] Most infamously, the Detroit Wheels contained 32 different owners, none of whom were able to properly bankroll the team.[2][3][7] 33 of its 36 draft picks could not be signed, and of 665 emergency try-outs for the team, none would ultimately play for it.[3] Thus, of the many players that went through the system, many would not be paid in a month.[2][3] The WFL responded by taking over the Wheels and paying the disgruntled players half of what they were owed, but would eventually fold it after no prospective buyers came forward.[2][1][3] After the team became bankrupt with nearly $4 million in debts, it was revealed the Wheels owed money to 122 different creditors.[2][1] The Jacksonville Sharks also folded before the season's end.[2][1] Other teams such as The Hawaiians accumulated $3 million in losses, while the Portland Storm, Birmingham Americans, and Florida Blazers regularly failed to make timely payroll.[2][1][3]

Considering the ownership fiascos, underwhelming attendances, and a US recession that started in 1973, the WFL ended up losing around $20 million in its first year.[2][1][7][3][5] It was a then-record biggest loss for a sporting venture.[1] It should be noted Davidson had never claimed the WFL would be immediately profitable, in fact expecting losses until at least the third season and requiring stadiums to have 25,000-30,000 attend per game just to break even.[11][2] However, the serious extent of losses, ownership withdrawals and heavy PR damage the league experienced forced Davidson to resign as the league's commissioner.[2][1][7] Despite the WFL's troubled first year, the 20-game regular season schedule continued, with the Florida Blazers topping the Eastern Division, Memphis Southmen claiming the Central Division, and the Southern California Sun ahead in the Western Division.[17][2] For the playoffs, the Southmen and Central Division runners-up Birmingham Americans earned byes to the Semi-Finals as the best-performing teams.[1] In the Quarter-Finals, Hawaiians beat the California Sun 32-14, while the Blazers overcame the Philadelphia Bell 18-3.[18][1] In the Semi-Finals, the Americans beat the Hawaiians 22-19, while the Blazers outmatched the Southmen 18-15.[19][1]

Finally, the World Bowl commenced on 5th December 1974 in front of 32,376 at the Legion Field.[20][21][2][1] Of this figure, just over 20,000 paid, primarily for the $3 cheap seats.[1] The game almost never happened, as the IRS demanded that the Americans pay an outstanding $237,000 in unpaid tax.[2][21] Additionally, the aforementioned payroll issues caused both sets of players to refuse to compete unless five weeks of withheld payment was forthcoming.[1][2][21] For the IRS, an agreement was made that a percentage of the overall gate would finance paying off the debt.[2][21] The promise of championship rings, a promise to pay game checks, and a $10,000 for the league's MVP helped placate the players.[2][1] By the third quarter, the Americans were 22-0 ahead, having scored 15 in the second and seven in the third.[20][1][2][7] A strong comeback from the Blazers in the fourth nearly paid dividends, but ultimately the Americans held on to win 22-21.[20][1][2][7] Tommy Reamon, J.J. Jennings, and Tony Adams all shared the league's MVP award.[21][7] The Blazers would soon fold after owner Rommie Loudd was arrested for cocaine dealing and tax evading, being convicted on cocaine delivery.[22][23][1] The winning Americans also collapsed prior to 1975, as a court order saw debt collectors seize the team's key assets.[2][1]

The End of WFL

While the WFL conducted a 1975 season, the financial and reputational damage it sustained had taken its toll.[7][2][1][5] The league was no longer seen as a viable international competitor to the NFL, attendances having continued to plummet.[7][1][2] Worst still, it was also impacting TVS' reputation.[9][3] While TVS had ultimately profited from televising WFL games, the first games generally earning 6.0 ratings compared to the 5.0 promised to advertisers, many higher-ups felt the network's credibility was being damaged by the WFL's misadventures.[24][9][3] By mid-season, the number of independent television stations covering WFL games dropped from the 100s to the 60s.[9] Having guest commentators like Burt Reynolds and Chicago Fire quarterback Virgil Carter did little to increase ratings.[9] When the World Bowl was televised, it obtained a 2.0 rating.[3]

TVS had the option of continuing for 1975.[9][24][3] However, it made the ultimatum that television coverage could only continue if WFL team the Chicago Winds signed New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.[25][3] Negotiations did emerge, with an offer around the $4-$5 million ballpark made to Namath.[26][3][25] According to The New York Times, this would have included a $500,000 signing bonus; a $500,000 basic three-year salary; and $100,000 for 20 years in annuity from 1978 onwards.[26] Namath ultimately rejected the deal because of concerns over annuity, which was based on television revenue.[26][3][25] Thus, the TVS deal fell through, and rumoured negotiations with the Hughes Network and CBS Sports also came to nothing.[9][3][2][10][25] While HBO Sports and some local independent stations did broadcast some 1975 games, it was not enough to financially sustain the league.[3][9][12][10] According to Sports Illustrated, the WFL's 1975 games were deemed so unimportant that Philadelphia Channel 29 decided to abruptly end one of its broadcasts mid-play and tune out for the night.[3]

Ultimately, with players leaving in doves after being paid only around $500 per game, and with the league acquiring more than $10 million in debt and expelling teams including the Winds, a vote was made on 22nd October 1975.[1][7][5][2][3][25] The vote decided that the WFL would cease operations, effective immediately.[1][7][5][25] The Birmingham Vulcans, having won nine games and lost three, had the best league record prior to the WFL's termination.[17] A common misconception was that the Vulcans were crowned the 1975 champions, but in reality, no team officially received the accolade.[6] Considering the WFL's ambitious yet unsuccessful existence, its failure has been greatly analysed and serves as a cautionary tale in football and sports league history.[1][2][3][5][7]


During TVS' short-lived coverage of the WFL, 20 games were televised between 11th July and 14th November 1974.[9] Ultimately, a large majority of these have since become lost media. As detailed in the 2001 documentary series Lost Treasures of NFL Films, most TVS telecasts were either destroyed or have disappeared over the years. Of the World Bowl broadcast, 21 minutes of footage can be found on YouTube. Additionally, just under 55 minutes of the 11th July 1974 game between the Jacksonville Sharks and New York Stars can also be viewed on the platform, as can 18 minutes of the Sharks' 17th July game against Chicago Fire. In 2001, the aforementioned Lost Treasures of NFL Films incorporated a large portion of surviving film and television footage for a documentary on the WFL. Viewable footage includes some originating from private recordings. Finally, some filmed fragments can be found on a website dedicated to documenting the WFL.

Meanwhile, HBO Sports televised twelve games between 10th July and 31st October 1974.[12] Unlike TVS, it also broadcast six games in 1975, between 9th August and 27th September.[12] HBO originally made recordings stored on two-inch tapes.[12] However, upon examining its tape collection, HBO concluded that none of its WFL tapes still exist within its archives.[12] A 30-second advertisement is all that remains of the HBO coverage.[12]

Finally, only a few clips from the World Football League Radio Network are known to have survived. However, a few local broadcasts have survived in their entireties. Among these include the Southern California Sun-Birmingham Americans game on 10th July 1974; the WMCA coverage of the Americans-New York Stars game on 17th July; the 14th August 1974 clash between the Philadelphia Bell and the Chicago Fire; and the Hawaiians-Sun playoff game. All of these can be listened to on YouTube.



Surviving TVS coverage of the World Bowl.
Surviving TVS coverage of New York Stars-Jacksonville Sharks game.
Surviving TVS coverage of Chicago Fire-Jacksonville Sharks game.
Radio coverage of the Southern California Sun-Birmingham Americans game.
WMCA radio coverage of the Birmingham Americans-New York Stars game.
Radio coverage of the Philadelphia Bell-Chicago Fire game.
Radio coverage of the Southern California Sun-Birmingham Americans game.
NFL Films documentary of the WFL, containing surviving film footage.
KTO's WFL documentary.

See Also

External Links


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 World Football League summarising the league's history from creation to folding. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 ESPN detailing the troubled history of the WFL, including accounts from WFL members. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 Sports Illustrated detailing the end of the WFL. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Sports Business Journal summarising the WFL's creation, and its ability to lure key players that caused the folding of two minor leagues. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 Fun while it Lasted summarising the failure of the WFL. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 World Football League providing fast facts on the league. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 7.16 7.17 7.18 7.19 7.20 7.21 7.22 7.23 7.24 7.25 7.26 Mental Floss detailing the WFL's creation and eventual failure. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  8. History detailing the NFL-AFL merger. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 World Football League detailing the league's deal with TVS. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 WFL Football summarising the TVS deal and the stations it syndicated coverage to. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  11. 11.0 11.1 The New York Times reporting on the WFL's need for national television, and its somewhat risky financial plan. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 World Football League detailing HBO's coverage of WFL games, and that all its two-inch tapes have been declared missing. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  13. 22nd July 1974 issue of Broadcasting reporting on the WFL's local television and radio deals (p. 42). Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Sports Illustrated summarising the largely unsuccessful 1974 NFL strike. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  15. Bleacher Report detailing the controversial history of NFL's Rozelle Rule. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Paper-Gate: The Philadelphia Bell and the "Scandal" That Brought Down the World Football League summarising the Papergate scandal. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  17. 17.0 17.1 WFL Football detailing the regular season standings for 1974 and 1975. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  18. World Football League detailing the Quarter-Final results. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  19. World Football League detailing the Semi-Final results. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 World Football League providing reports on the World Bowl. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Sports Illustrated detailing the controversies surrounding the World Bowl. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  22. 24th December 1974 issue of Spokane Daily Chronicle reporting on Loudd being arrested for tax evasion and cocaine dealing. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  23. 20th July 1976 issue of St. Petersburg Times reporting on Loudd's convictions for cocaine dealing. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  24. 24.0 24.1 4th March 1975 issue of The Los Angeles Times interviewing TVS' Eddie Einhorn regarding the station's WFL coverage. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 25.5 Fun while it Lasted summarising the Chicago Winds and its role in the WFL losing the TVS deal. Retrieved 15th Mar '23
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 The New York Times reporting on Namath rejecting the Winds' deal. Retrieved 15th Mar '23