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Will Birmingham join the Canadian Football League?


July 26, 1981
    Photograph
  Nelson Skalbania
   
Nelson Skalbania, principal owner of the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes, is leading a movement to form a new football league comprised of the existing CFL franchises and as many as 11 new franchises to be located in the United States. Birmingham has been mentioned as one of those cities.

Other sites being considered are New York, Los Angeles, Syracuse, Chicago, Portland, Rochester, Shreveport, Memphis, Phoenix, and Atlanta.

Two days ago, Skalbania submitted a bid of $8.5 million for Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, home of the National Football League's New England Patriots. The Patriots have bid $6.5 million. If the new league is formed, the stadium would serve as the home of the Boston franchise.

William R. Putnam, vice president and operations director of the Alouettes, confirmed Skalbania's involvement in the proposed league. Putnam was the owner of the 1974 World Football League champion Birmingham Americans. Putnam said he could enthusiastically recommend Birmingham for a franchise.

Franchise fees in the new league would be $3 million. The majority of revenue will come from pay-television in the U.S. markets. "The thing that must be emphasized is that each existing club in the CFL will end up with more money than they could dream of. Clubs would double or triple their revenue," Putnam said.

The organizers are including a number of well-known names as potential owners including Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders managing general partner, who is currently involved in an antitrust suit against the NFL. Other names mentioned are agent Jerry Argovitz, former NFL coaches Hank Stram, George Allen, John Madden, John Raltson, as well as Ted Turner, owner of Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves.

The new league would have to change an existing clause in the CFL constitution requiring all clubs be based in Canada. Seven of the league's nine members would have to vote for the change. The Toronto, Hamilton, British Columbia, and Montreal franchises are supposedly in favor of the expansion.

However, Jake Gaudaur, commissioner of the CFL, says Montreal is the only club pushing for the expansion. "There is no feeling in the league for such an expansion except for Mr. Skalbania. In theory it sounds great to expand to the United States. However, it's not an anti-American feeling, but we feel certain that if we let in the bigger American cities some of the Canadian cities would drop by the wayside."

Birmingham Park and Recreation Board head Frank Wagner said no inquiries have been made concerning the availability of Legion Field.

Epilogue

Eventually, the Canadian Football League did expand into the United States. Joining the league in 1993 and earning their place in CFL trivia books was the Sacramento Gold Miners.

American franchises added for 1994 were the Baltimore Stallions, the Las Vegas Posse, and the Shreveport Pirates.

In 1995, the Birmingham Barracudas and the Memphis Mad Dogs were added, while Sacramento moved to San Antonio and became the Texans. The Las Vegas franchise folded.

In 1996, Baltimore moved to Montreal to become the Alouettes. Unfortunately, due to financial hardships all the remaining American franchises folded, ending the CFL's plan to expand into the United States.
 
 
 
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Last update: August 17, 2018