On May 24, 1982, the United States Football League (USFL) reached an agreement with ABC and ESPN on television rights. The money for inaugural 1983 season would be a total of $13 million: $9 million from ABC and $4 million from ESPN (roughly $1.1 million per team).
ABC televised a Sunday afternoon game-of-the-week, one prime time
evening game, plus coverage of the USFL divisional playoffs and championship game. The contract required the USFL to schedule a minimum of three games on Sunday, with ABC guaranteed to broadcast one game nationally (the afordmentioned, Sunday afternoon game-of-the-week) or two or more regionally. The contract included no clauses regarding "blackouts
" or "cross-feeding". In all, the total package with ABC called for 21 telecasts of USFL action. Meanwhile, ESPN generally televised two prime time games (on Saturdays and Mondays respectively) each week of the USFL season.
The first professional football game to ever be broadcast on ESPN
On Monday, March 7
the Michigan Panthers
opened their 1983 schedule with a 9-7 win at Legion Field
in Birmingham, Alabama
against the Stallons
. The game marked the first professional football game ever to be broadcast on ESPN
. A Serbian kicker (via Central Michigan) named Novo Bojovic
hit the winning field goal from 48 yards out in the waning moments to preserve the Panthers' road win.
The first USFL game on ABC
Meanwhile, one day earlier
, the Los Angeles Express
and New Jersey Generals
played in the first nationally televised USFL game, with the Express winning, 20-15.
According to an ABC spokesman, the network averaged a 6.0 rating
for their first USFL season. This was slightly better than the network's coverage of the first American Football League
football season back in 1960
. In its second year, AFL games on ABC averaged a 6.1 rating, and in 1962, the third year, a 6.5.
Overall, ESPN averaged a 3.3 rating for its USFL coverage, a 3.0 for Saturday games and a 3.5 for the Monday night coverage. "We are pretty pleased with the results", said an ESPN spokesman, who noted that the network's overall USFL rating average was almost 50% higher than its prime time average for their entire fourth quarter of 1982.
ABC claimed to have made a profit from its coverage of USFL during the 1983 season. Regular season 30-second spots were priced at $30
,000; playoff spots at $35,000. Thirty second spots for the championship game between the Michigan Panthers
and the Philadelphia Stars
played on July 17
sold for $60,000. Major sponsors throughout the season included Gallo
, Anheuser Busch
Major USFL sponsors for ESPN in 1984 included Ford, Anheuser Busch, American Motors, DuPont, GMC, Mattel, Michelin, Nissan, Noxema, Timex and A.C. Delco.
Franchises most effected by the television coverage
ABC's contract with the league required that there had to at the very least, be franchises in the Chicago
, Los Angeles
, and New York
Before the end of the season 1984, it was announced that the Blitz would be shut down. Chicago White Sox
part-owner Eddie Einhorn
was awarded a new Chicago franchise, but it was stressed that this new franchise had no connection to the Blitz. A strong proponent of the USFL's planned move to the fall in 1986
, he opted not to field a team in 1985
. ABC had no objections to this move, probably due to the USFL's anemic ratings in Chicago.
Just after Mouse Davis
took over as head coach, the USFL announced that it would switch to a fall schedule for the 1986
season. Local support for the Gold practically vanished. While the Gold had been one of the USFL's attendance leaders, fans in the Denver area were not about to abandon the Broncos
in favor of the Gold. Despite finally getting into the playoffs with an 11-7 record, the Gold's attendance crashed to 14,400 fans per game. As a result, despite finishing second in the Western Conference, they were forced to play on the road against the lower-seeded Memphis Showboats
under pressure from ABC. The network, who had considerable influence over the USFL due to the structuring of the league's television contract, did not want the embarrassment of having a game played in a near-empty stadium
Los Angeles Express
The team never drew well at the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
, even in their breakthrough 1984 season. The low attendance figures began to prove very embarrassing and frustrating to the league and its major television broadcaster, ABC
, which had hoped for a more credible product to emanate from the nation's second-largest media market. The team had to play its last home game at Los Angeles Pierce College
, a small junior college
in the San Fernando Valley
The Arizona Wranglers, despite having the worse record of the two participating teams, got to host the 1984 Western Conference championship game because the Los Angeles Express could not use their home field, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum due to a schedule conflict. To accommodate the oppressive summer heat in the state, as well as the ABC Sports television schedule, the game kicked off at 8:30 p.m. local time, 11:30 p.m. Eastern time.
- Keith Jackson/Lynn Swann
- Jim Lampley/Lee Corso (Lee Corso was also an analyst for ESPN's USFL coverage)
- Tim Brant/Lee Grosscup
- Bill Flemming/Ron Mix
ABC used Frank Gifford as the studio anchor. Another play-by-play man that ABC used was Curt Gowdy.
- Jim Simpson/Paul Maguire (Mondays)
- Tom Kelly/Don Heinrich (Saturdays)
ESPN used Tom Mees as a studio anchor.