With a little more than six weeks until the USFL’s reboot season is supposed to kick off, a group of former owners and executives from the original league are suing FOX Sports to block the launch of the new league.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday, the group – known as The Real USFL LLC – alleges trademark infringement, false advertising and false association by FOX Sports and USFL Enterprises.
“FOX has no claim to this legacy and no right to capitalize on the goodwill of the league,” the complaint reads. “FOX’s USFL franchise is an unabashed counterfeit.”
The original USFL existed from 1983-85 as a spring league and planned to move to the fall in 1986 to compete directly with the NFL before ceasing operations. It featured 18 teams, including the Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, New Orleans Breakers, Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Maulers and Tampa Bay Bandits.
Those eight teams comprise the new league, which is scheduled to begin on April 16 and recently held a 35-round draft to fill out the rosters with former college and NFL players. The league also unveiled updated logos and new uniforms for the teams in recent months.
“FOX is trying to reap where it did not sow and profit from confusion among fans of the real USFL, by claiming the legacy of something it didn’t build,” Real USFL LLC attorney Nicholas Matich of McKool Smith said in a statement.
“The Real USFL is acting to protect the legacy of the players, owners, coaches, and staff of the historic league. Quite simply, FOX is claiming to be something that it’s not — the heir of the 1980s league that launched numerous Hall of Fame careers and changed the game of football.”
The lawsuit also claims that Real USFL LLC still holds licenses for trademarks on fan apparel, books and a movie, and alleges that FOX Sports and its attorneys have tried to intimidated officially licensed vendors to stop the sale of such merchandise.
“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,” Real USFL LLC co-counsel Alex Brown of Lanier Law Firm said in a statement.
“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.”
A lawyer representing FOX Sports and USFL Enterprises responded to the lawsuit on Tuesday, noting that the original USFL has been defunct for more than 30 years and has abandoned its trademarks.
“The lawsuit filed yesterday by an entity formed just a week ago is completely without merit,” David Bernstein of Debevoise & Plimpton said in a statement. “The new USFL registered its intellectual property rights in 2011 and is excited to launch games on schedule on April 16. The eleventh-hour attempt to extract value from the exciting new USFL is utterly frivolous, and we are exploring all options for redress.”
Header photo courtesy of the USFL.