Berl Bernhard, owner of the Washington franchise in the new United States Football League, said yesterday that he still needs further financial commitments from local backers before the team will be able to compete successfully.
"We are playing catch up," said Bernhard, a partner in the Washington law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Alexander. "I've only been in this a little more than a month and some other owners have been planning for 18 months. It's one thing for us to come to a point where we are now, where we can proceed. But it is another to be able to compete financially with everyone else.
"We can get by for the interim period, but we have to have staying power. I am reasonably satisfied we can come up with the right package or I wouldn't have gone this far."
Bernhard said owners have been told they could lose from $1 million to $2.2 million the first year, depending on fan support and whether the USFL can negotiate a national television package. But by the second season, the league hopes most teams might have reached the break-even point, although sources say a $4 million loss over the first three years would not be considered shocking.
Bernhard, who first committed himself to the Washington franchise in late March, said he will begin screening possible coaching and general manager candidates while also completing negotiations with the D.C. Armory Board over lease of RFK Stadium. He said he does not have a team nickname in mind.
The new league, which was formally introduced yesterday at a New York press conference, will have teams in 11 other cities: New York, owned by Oklahoma oil man J. Walter Duncan; Detroit, owned by former judge Peter Spivak and industralist Alfred Taubman; Los Angeles, owned by industralist Jim Joseph; Birmingham, owned by developer and banker Marvin Warner; Tampa Bay, owned by industrialist John Bassett; San Diego, owned by cable magnate Bill Daniels; Boston, owned by ex-pro Randy Vataha and industralist George Matthews; Philadelphia, owned by developer Miles Tanenbaum; San Francisco, owned by developer Theddeus Taube; Denver, owned by developer Ron Blanding, and Chicago, owned by businessman David Dixon, the league founder.
"I was impressed by the financial commitment and enthusiasm of these people," said Bernhard, former national campaign manager for Edmund Muskie and a member of the Kennedy administration. "I told them I had to catch up and they are going to help. They want a franchise in this city. These people are serious, no doubt about it."
The USFL, which was created in large part after a private survey showed fans and cable television would support spring football, will begin play next March with each team playing 20 games. Organizers intend to compete with the National Football League for drafted college players instead of trying to sign high-priced NFL veterans.
Although the NFL and USFL seasons will not overlap, NFL players are prevented, by wording in the standard players contract, from playing football for any other team unless given permission.
The Denver franchise apparently is close to signing Lou Saban, the former NFL and college coach, to be coach and general manager. John Ralston, a former Denver coach, reportedly will be connected with the San Francisco franchise.