The U.S. Football League filed a $1.32 billion antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League today, seeking an end to current contracts between the major television networks and the NFL.
In the suit, the USFL alleges that the NFL is guilty of antitrust violations in the areas of player contracts, television, stadium availability, scheduling and media relations.
"Our legal counsel has been collecting data of NFL policies vis-a-vis these areas for several months," a USFL spokesman said. "We sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle six weeks ago, informing him of the five areas of possible antitrust."
Named in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, were, in addition to the league, each of the 28 NFL teams and Rozelle. The plaintiffs, in addition to the USFL, include each of its 16 teams.
No date has been set for Judge Peter Leisure to hear the case.
The suit seeks $440 million in damages, which under antitrust law would be automatically trebled if the court finds in favor of the USFL.
According to court papers, the suit charges the NFL with maintaining a monopoly and it "seeks redress for past and ongoing violations of the federal antitrust laws." The suit also asks that the NFL be "enjoined from negotiating with or making contractual offers with players currently under USFL contracts" before their contracts expire.
The suit challenges the NFL's contracts with the three major television networks and asks the court to declare them illegal.
The suit requests the court to order one of two possible revampings of the NFL-network contracts.
In one, it asks that "the NFL be divided into two separate, competing 14-team leagues, with each league limited to maintaining a network television contract with only one of the three major networks."
In the alternative request, the NFL and its clubs could maintain contracts with "no more than two of the three major networks."
The lawsuit accuses the NFL of "numerous predatory and unlawful actions" by which it "sought to perpetuate the monopoly of the NFL by making successful entry by a competing professional football league into the business of major league football impossible."
The suit also asserts that the USFL, since its first season in 1983, has been forced to play a spring schedule "given the monopoly of the NFL member clubs" in the fall season.
When the USFL was formed in 1982 with 12 teams and a two-year contract with ABC and ESPN for between $18 million and $22 million, the founders said they wanted to provide the public with a spring-summer football alternative.
The league expanded to 18 teams for the 1984 season and several teams were sold, leaving only six of the original owners. Most of those at first opposed the switch to a fall schedule, although they voted for it last August when the league decided to switch to the fall starting in 1986.
A spokesman for the NFL said the league had been expecting the suit to be filed for quite a while.
"We will have no comment until we have a chance to review the legal papers," the spokesman said. "It was inevitable they were gong to file suit. It was clear that was part of their game since day one. It's nothing new. The AFL filed a suit against us in the 1960s, the WFL filed one in the 1970s. Now the USFL is filing one in the 1980s."
Later in the day, Rozelle called the suit "totally baseless."