When the USFL was relaunched by Fox using names and logos for teams from the original version of the league, the assumption was that they owned all of the trademarks necessary to do so. According to a lawsuit filed Monday, that is not the case.

According to the lawsuit filed in California, a group of owners and executives from the original USFL that lasted between 1983 and 1985 claim that Fox’s new league has “no association” with the original and has no claim “to the name and logo of the original league, its team names, and team logos.”

The plaintiffs, which refer to themselves as “the Real USFL,” says they possess all rights and interest in USFL trademarks and are asking the court to force Fox to immediately stop using any USFL branding, which includes the names and logos of the eight teams set to begin league play this spring. They are also asking for Fox to hand over ownership of the league website and any financial information.

Larry Csonka is the initial manager of the ownership group bringing the lawsuit. The Pro Football Hall of Famer was the director of scouting and later the general manager of the Jacksonville Bulls.

“It boils down to this,” says Csonka in a video that accompanied the lawsuit. “If the USFL doesn’t have any value, why did FOX want it?” 

“Fox is trying to reap where it did not sow and profit from confusion among fans of the real USFL, by claiming the legacy of something it didn’t build.,” says Nicholas Matich of the McKool Smith law firm, which represents the Real USFL LLC. “The Real USFL is acting to protect the legacy of the players, owners, coaches, and staff of the historic league.  Quite simply Fox is claiming to be something that it’s not—the heir of the 1980s league that launched numerous hall-of-fame careers and changed the game of football.” 

Fox’s USFL, which is set to begin play on April 16, includes eight teams separated into two divisions. The Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, and Pittsburgh Maulers will play in the North Division. The Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers, and Tampa Bay Bandits will play in the South Division. The new-again league held its draft last week as it finalizes rosters to compete in just a few months. The league recently announced its plans to hold its combine in late March.

As NBC is also an investor in the league, both Fox and NBC are set to simulcast the USFL’s first game on April 16. However, NBC was not named in the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, a link to the original version of the Fox press release on June 3, 2021, includes language that implies that Fox owns all of the rights to the USFL trademarks and that the new league is a continuation of the original. However, when you visit that same link now, those references have been removed and the release implicitly states that the new USFL is not affiliated with the old USFL, though they do claim to own the necessary trademarks.

“Although the new USFL owns the USFL trademark and various team names, including the team names that were abandoned after the 1980s USFL league shut down, the new USFL is not associated or affiliated with that league or its owners,” the page reads now.

This is, of course, not the first lawsuit involving the USFL. Infamously, the league filed a $1.5 billion antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986. They won but the jury initially awarded the league a symbolic $1 victory, which was upped to $3.

We’ll update as this develops, including any reaction from Fox regarding the lawsuit and accusations.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.