The World Football League went out of business on October 22, 1975. As for actual competition, though, that business concluded in the wee hours of October 20, 1975.
The final Sunday (October 19) of WFL action featured four games. Birmingham blanked Memphis, 21-0, and Shreveport outscored San Antonio, 41-31, in the two afternoon contests; Portland thumped Jacksonville, 30-13, in an 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time showdown; and Southern California whipped The Hawaiians, 26-7, in a game played in Honolulu that kicked off at 11:30 p.m. EDT.
(Philadelphia defeated Charlotte, 18-10, on October 18 in what we can now call “The Beginning of the End.”)
No one could’ve been sure that this – the second weekend of the WFL’s split-season schedule – would be its last, but I can’t imagine anyone being the least bit surprised that it was.
League meetings were held in New York on October 13-14 with the option of shutting down very much on the table. When they were over, WFL Commissioner Chris Hemmeter announced that such touchy subjects as staying in business or going out of business would no longer be discussed publicly.
“We are not going to indulge in any more speculation about the viability of the WFL because its viability to us has never been questionable,” Hemmeter told the Associated Press. “We will not entertain questions about the future of the league because such questions always end up implying that the WFL is weak and its future is questionable. Nor will we entertain questions about our financial condition as these questions are internal matters.”
Any time the CEO of a business uses words like “speculation” and “viability,” it usually means those who are speculating about its viability are on to something. And they were.
The 1975 WFL tried to pick up the pieces of the 1974 version by being an entirely new and separate entity in a corporate sense. It was “New League Inc.” doing business as the WFL, so technically it was a remake instead of a sequel.
The business model was based on the “Hemmeter Plan,” which meant most players were paid one percent of a team’s income after expenses. According to the 1975 media guide 42 percent of a team’s revenue was allocated for salaries, 3 percent to the injured reserve pool, 10 percent to stadiums and 6 percent to the league. The remaining 39 percent covered everything from front office salaries to utilities.
Such constraints were designed to keep spending in check and help the 11 franchises remain solvent. Unlike 1974, you wouldn’t have to worry about franchises folding or relocating.
In early September the Chicago Winds did, in fact, fold when two financial backers pulled out.
And the Hemmeter Plan – while sound in theory – meant many players were making minor league money because attendance was extremely low in most cities. In fact, even the bare-bones pay scale was being scaled back as the season progressed.
Throw in the fact that the WFL had no national TV contract and even the most optimistic fan realized it’d take a miracle for the league to survive.
Which brings us back to the last game in WFL history, played before 15,905 fans at Aloha Stadium (many who paid $3 for end zone seats). Leading up to the game six Hawaiian players, including two quarterbacks and a top receiver, decided to leave the team instead of taking further cuts. Those who stuck around had already decided to meet the day after the contest and figure out if they wanted to play out the season.
For the record, Southern California’s Benny Ricardo accounted for the final points in WFL history when he kicked a 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to make it 26-7.
That happened around 9:30 p.m. in the Hawaii–Aleutian Time Zone and 2:30 a.m. Monday on the East Coast of the United States. By Monday afternoon, the fate of the league became pretty clear.
While Birmingham drew a nice crowd of 35,000 for the game against its archrival, fans around the rest of the league stayed away in droves. Only 1,293 showed up in Philadelphia, Portland drew 8,713, and Shreveport had 8,500 paying customers.
Associated Press headlines the day after the Sunday games read, “WFL Is Close To Folding Up” and on Tuesday it was reported that an emergency call among owners was set.
The afternoon newspapers of Wednesday, October 22, printed the obituary:
NEW YORK – The World Football League, professional sports’ most unsuccessful league, decided to fold in mid-season, it was learned today.
The WFL, reorganized this year by Chris Hemmeter following last year’s series of disasters in which $20 million was lost, simply could not attract the crowds necessary to keep the 10-team league afloat.
“It’s over,” said an official of the Birmingham franchise. “The league has had it.”