Pittsburgh has been awarded the United States Football League's first expansion franchise, league Commissioner Chet Simmons announced yesterday. The new team will begin playing games in the 1984 season.
Simmons said the team will be run by sports entrepreneur Edward J. DeBartolo of Youngstown, Ohio, whose son Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. owns the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.
Simmons said the USFL will issue at least three more franchises for next season and perhaps as many as six to eight. Leagues sources said owners approved 22 expansion markets during a recent league meeting and that San Diego, San Antonio, Memphis, Houston, New Orleans and Oklahoma are given the best chances to have teams in 1984.
The owner of the prospective San Diego franchise, William Tatham, has offered the general manager's job there to Robert Brodhead, athletic director at Louisiana State University. Tatham owned the Portland team in the defunct World Football League and Brodhead was its general manager.
DeBartolo Sr. owns the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, the Pittsburgh Spirit of the Major Indoor Soccer League and heads the corporation that operates the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, where those teams play.
Although Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. owns the 49ers, Simmons said the USFL sees "no conflict. Mr. DeBartolo's application was accepted unanimously by the owners in the USFL."
Simmons refused to comment on reports DeBartolo has begun negotiating to sell his new franchise to Pittsburgh businessman James Roddey.
"I can't speak to that," Simmons said. "The franchise is Mr. DeBartolo's. I think it is really premature to consider any sale."
Simmons said the Pittsburgh team is "the first of many" to be awarded before next season. He said there would be a minimum of four new teams by then "with the possibility of six or eight."
Simmons said Pittsburgh was the No. 1 city on the USFL's list of "maybe 30 or 40" prospective new sites. He said Pittsburgh met "all of the USFL's criteria"--the right population and size, television and cable "penetration," good pro football attendance, civic and corporate support and media coverage.
And although Simmons named stadium availability as another factor, he declined to say whether the USFL team's home games next season would be played at Three Rivers or the University of Pittsburgh's stadium.
"That's up to the franchise," he said.
DeBartolo could not be reached for comment on whether his new franchise is for sale.
Roddey, a former president of Turner Communications who now runs Allegheny Media, said he had made no offer to DeBartolo.
"The DeBartolos have indicated they are going to run the franchise," Roddey said. "We understand there are pressures from the other league, and should they (DeBartolo) decide to consider another option we would be interested in talking with them. We have expressed that interest to them."