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Fox Sports reboot of USFL spurs lawsuit from original springtime league

A group of former owners of the defunct springtime league claims Fox Sports is misappropriating the USFL and its teams' trademarks.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Fox Sports' plans to bring back the United States Football League this spring has drawn the ire of the original league, which stopped fielding teams in 1985 but claims it owns the league's trademarks.

The Real USFL filed a complaint in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday, calling Fox’s USFL franchise "an unabashed counterfeit." The Real USFL, which was formed after Fox announced its plans to relaunch the league, seeks a court order to stop Fox from using its USFL and related trademarks.

According to the lawsuit, the Real USFL represents the interest of the owners and heirs of the original USLF teams, including the Birmingham Stallions, Michigan Panthers, Houston Gamblers, and Memphis Showboats. The Fox league will include teams with the same names when it kicks off in April.

"Fox has no claim to this legacy and no right to capitalize on the goodwill of the league," the Real USFL says in its complaint. "It has taken the name and logo of the original league, its team names, and team logos to which it has no right. And, to make matters worse, it has traded on the false narrative that Fox’s League and USFL teams are the offspring of the originals. They are not."

Representatives of Fox Sports didn't respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit by press time.

Launched in 1983 as a springtime professional football league, the USFL lasted for only three seasons but attracted a number of high-profile players like Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker and launched the professional careers of several other Hall of Famers, including Reggie White, Jim Kelly, and Steve Young. Former U.S. president Donald Trump owned the USFL's New Jersey Generals for part of its existence.

In 1986, Trump and other USFL owners urged the league to start playing in the fall rather than the spring, to compete head-to-head with the NFL so as to force a merger between the two leagues and secure more lucrative television deals. The USFL also brought an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, which it won, but only nominally. The jury awarded the USFL just $1 in damages, tripled to $3 under antitrust law, and the league folded shortly thereafter.

The end of the league was not the end of the USFL's commercial activities, according to the complaint. The league's former executive director and co-owner of its Memphis Showboats, Steve Ehrhart, continued to negotiate licensing deals on behalf of the USFL for apparel including T-shirts with the teams' names and logos, as well as books and other media.

When Fox announced it was relaunching the USFL last year, Ehrhart told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "my guess is there’s some knucklehead out there who claimed he had registered the name and had the rights to it. We’re not being antagonistic. But if they want to do this, they should do it the right way and talk to the actual people, not some guy who sent in an internet registration or something like that."

According to the Real USFL's complaint, in response to the claims it was misappropriating the USFL's trademarks, Fox said the original USFL had been defunct for over 30 years and had abandoned its trademarks. Nonetheless, Fox changed the press release announcing its new league by removing reference to "relaunch" of the USFL and the league's history, the complaint says.

The Real USFL seeks damages on claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertisement, as well as a court order barring Fox Sports from using the USFL name, team names and logos and the USFL domain name. It is represented by Kirk Dillman and M. Storm Byrd of the LA firm McKook Smith Hennigan.


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