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Will Birmingham join the North American Football League?


March 5, 1987
Charles O. Finley announces his plan for a new professional football league. The North American Football League would be created by merging the Canadian Football League with 9 new teams located in the United States. Finley named Birmingham, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Memphis, Phoenix, Jacksonville, and Dallas-Fort Worth as potential candidates for the U.S. franchises.

Finley, a native of Birmingham, plans to own the Chicago team and will name them the Indians. He owned the Southern League's Birmingham Athletics and is a former owner of Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics. Some of the other owners could be former owners of United States Football League teams.

With U.S. and Canadian divisions, an interlocking schedule could be played with possibly a Canadian-U.S. showdown for the championship. The season could run from late June to late November to avoid viewer competition with the National Football League.

"I'm confident beyond a shadow of a doubt that if we get a TV contract, the Canadian Football League will be very happy, extremely happy, to get in bed with us," Finley said.

However, the CFL officials dismiss the merger talk, but concede that anything is possible for the right amount of money. CFL spokesman John Laboni said, "Right now the idea of a merger is a dead issue. But if Finley came up with a $20 million (television) contract and offered it to us, we'd have to take a good look at it." The current CFL commissioner says the CFL "intends to operate in its present format and if any expansion takes place, it will occur within the boundaries of Canada."

The CFL's former television contract, which provided $11 million yearly, has expired and this year's agreement is expected to bring in less than $4 million. "We have already done our homework. We know what the Canadian Football League needs. We know what their TV contract is worth now; peanuts. If we went out and put a lucrative TV contract in front of them, what do you think they would do? I'll tell you what they'd do. They'd be kissing both sides of my cheeks," Finley said.

However, Finley has already approached ABC, the USA Network, Turner Broadcasting System, and Fox Network. None have expressed much interest at this point. Jim Zrake, USA Network's vice-president of production said, "I don't think too many of our subscribers are interested in seeing 2 Canadian teams playing under Canadian rules."

April 13, 1987
Finley is confident that Birmingham will be the home of a North American Football League franchise. "Birmingham's going to be in a third pro football league. You can believe that," Finley said. No local ownership has been found but Finley claims to have had talks with potential owners.

Some details have been changed, however, such as the idea to merge with the CFL. Plans still call for a 1988 inaugural season. When asked why the NAFL will succeed where the United States Football League just failed, Finley said, "It didn't have Charlie Finley in back of it. That's the big thing. This league will. I didn't spend 20 years in baseball and win 5 division championships in a row and 3 World Championships in a row without learning something. I wasn't in hockey 3 years without learning anything. I wasn't in basketball 2 years without learning anything. I'm the only individual who ever owned 3 professional sports teams at one time; hockey, baseball, and basketball. I'm in the process of developing this league. You'll hear more about it. We'll have individual owners with deep pockets. They'll have staying power." Finley has owned the Athletics, the National Hockey League's California Golden Seals and the American Basketball Association's Memphis Tams.

Epilogue

In 2004, former United States Football League executive director Steve Ehrhart was reported as saying the National Football League was one reason the NAFL never came about.

"We talked about it some years ago, and actually Charlie Finley came down to visit with me 3 or 4 times and we talked about it. But the NFL got wind of that, and thatís one reason I think they started the World League of American Football. In those first few years, they played in the spring, and they used the international component. Now, I think there was a window, but Iím not sure that we can do it. We tried to get the CFL (Canadian Football League) to grow up and become a North American football league, but that didnít really take. The Arena teams have filled some of the void. 10 years ago I was very bullish about it. But now Iím not sure any network is willing to stand up and take the chance of angering the NFL,Ē Ehrhart said.



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Last update: January 12, 2018