February 28, 2022

Apparently Goodwill, like Love and like Diamonds, is Forever

On February 28, 2022, The Real USFL, LLC sued Fox Sports in the Central District of California [2:22-cv-1350] for attempting to resurrect the United States Football League (USFL) — a football league that played for three seasons, 1983 through 1985. The league folded before its planned 1986 season and, all told, had lost over $163 million USD in its short life.

The plaintiff is not the original league, but an entity formed six days earlier on February 22, 2022. It claims to be the holder of “all rights and interest” in the leagues’ trademarks. In its complaint, the plaintiff alleges the defendant Fox Sports has “no right to capitalize on the goodwill of the league.”

Plaintiff alleges that this goodwill was preserved by, among other things, organizing league and team reunions; authorizing and appearing in an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary; and entering into certain media licensing arrangements on behalf of the USFL for apparel, books, and other media.

Plaintiff raises claim of trademark infringement, false advertising, false association, unfair competition, and cancellation of trademarks. Plaintiff seems most concerned by Fox’s characterization of its efforts as a “reboot” of the defunct league when Fox has no direct connection with the original league. However, it is not clear that a reboot excludes such a situation. It is even more unclear whether the old USFL has any rights left to complain about.

It should be an interesting case. If nothing else, we will learn what it takes to maintain rights in a trademark and what constitutes abandonment.