Steve Ehrhart was taken aback Thursday morning when he turned on his television and heard that the United States Football League was going to be returning next spring, 37 years after it played its last down.
The announcement was made jointly by Brian Woods, who was identified as the cofounder of the new USFL, and Fox Sports, which will be the league’s broadcast partner.
The new USFL is using the old USFL’s logo and claims to have retained the rights to key original team names, including the Philadelphia Stars. The new USFL already has created a website, which boasts that USFL merchandise soon will be available for sale even though the eight cities in which it plans to play still haven’t been identified.
But Ehrhart, who was the USFL’s executive director in its final season and still has the $3 check the league received in 1986 after “winning” its antitrust suit against the NFL, would love to know where Woods and Fox claim to have gotten the rights to the USFL name and logo and those of the original teams.
“I was surprised when I heard about it this morning,” said Ehrhart, a longtime Memphis attorney and the executive director of the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl. “I want to dig into it and see who they’re claiming they acquired these rights [to the name] from. Because it didn’t come from any legitimate source.
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“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.”
Ehrhart said that the league retained the rights to the USFL name after the ’86 legal battle with the NFL. He said league officials also licensed the rights to the team logos and still even get a royalty check every month.
“It’s not a big check, but we have a bank account in the USFL name,” he said. “So, we’ve been in continuous use for nearly 40 years. So they would need to sit down and talk with us. We’d be open to doing that.”
Woods was a financial adviser with the short-lived Alliance of American Football, a spring league that went belly-up eight games into its first season in 2019. He has been associated the last two years with The Spring League, whose games are broadcast on Fox.
Attempts to reach Woods and Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks were unsuccessful. Fox Sports spokesperson Anne Pennington said, “We stand by what was in the press release.”
The release didn’t explain how Woods obtained the rights to the USFL name or the rights to the original team names.
Ehrhart said he’s been approached by groups over the years about buying the rights to the USFL name, including the people who founded the first version of the XFL.
“We always took the position — and when I say we, I mean myself and [former Philadelphia Stars president] Carl Peterson and [former Birmingham Stallions president] Jerry Sklar and others — a lot of people gave blood, sweat and tears and fortunes to the league.
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“We were only around three seasons, but the USFL was a classy, well-respected name. We always said that we didn’t want to just jump in there and sell it to somebody who was going to be underfunded and blow up and give a halfway kind of effort. So we never did give or sell or authorize the rights to anybody.
“If Fox is a partner in this and they want to sit down with us and discuss this, and we think it makes sense, we’re certainly open to that.”