Any time a new professional football league is formed in the United States, officials backing the venture will explain that they are trying to “fill a void.” Rarely, however, do they come along when that void has already been filled.
The Professional Spring Football League did just that, though, announcing its entrance into the sports scene just four months after the World League of American Football had completed its inaugural season.
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Unveiled on October 1, 1991, at Gallaghers Steak House in New York, PSFL commissioner Rex Lardner (former programming director for Turner Broadcasting) billed it as a can’t miss venture.
“Two things will make this league successful while others failed,” Lardner told the Herald-News of Passaic, New Jersey. “Keeping control of expenses through the league office, that is, coordinating all the funds to the teams through the league office so that we protect the owners from each other.
“And also a really strong regionalization concept due to our territorial draft.”
This was the single entity concept before the single entity concept was cool. Not only did the two versions of the XFL operate under that business model, Major League Soccer still does, along with Major League Rugby. So, Lardner and league founder Vincent Sette were visionaries in that regard.
But why try to compete with another spring league that was funded by the NFL and had national television contracts with both ABC and the USA Network?
“We will make it a shorter game and affordable to everybody,” Lardner said. “We don’t have the global concept of the WLAF. We are looking to draw only about 20,000, maybe 25,000 per game that first year.”
But no new sports league had ever survived without major TV contracts, and the PSFL had none.
“We think we have television,” Lardner insisted. “I’ll work with every franchise in getting local television and radio. Then maybe go after regional cable, maybe semi-national cable. Realistically, we’ve got to walk before we sprint.
“Television is just not the end-all of this league.”
In something of an upset for a spring upstart, this league didn’t just disappear after its introductory news conference. By the time the calendar flipped to 1992 all systems were go, with a 16-game regular season set to start on February 29 (three weeks before the WLAF embarked on year two).
The team lineup consisted of the Arkansas Miners, Carolina Cougars, Miami Tribe, Nevada Aces, New England Blitz, New Mexico Rattlesnakes, Oregon Lightning Bolts, Tampa Bay Blitz, Utah Pioneers, and Washington Marauders, each with 45-man rosters.
The average salary per player was projected to be in the $30,000 per season range, and they were all hoping to lead their team to the championship game on July 5 – the Red, White and Blue Bowl at RFK Stadium in Washington.
The PSFL also had some coaching star power with Craig Morton leading Oregon and Steve Grogan guiding the fortunes of New England.
What it didn’t have, however, was TV. Nor did it have enough teams in major markets to interest any network.
I assume you know how this story ends.
On February 13, 1992, the Professional Spring Football League suspended operations with Lardner saying it needed $1 million to stay afloat. On March 2 it officially folded – with 700 players who had participated in training camps still unpaid.
“We made our decision to suspend this season because we lost so much time getting everything together,” Sette told the Tampa Tribune. “There was a problem with the economy and we moved at too fast a pace.”
Sette said he hoped the league would be able to reform and launch in 1993 but, of course, that didn’t happen. And that’s too bad because the WLAF went on hiatus from 1993-94, once again leaving that spring void that demands to be filled. Instead, the PSFL was null and void before ever playing a game.