Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kayo'ed Again

What if they started a league and nobody came?

In the halcyon days of Handful O'Landfill, the answer was easy: You named an official card licensee and put out a press release. And if that didn't put you on the map, then you folded.

That's how it worked for the Professional Spring Football League.

Don't remember the PSFL? Neither do I. All I have to remember it by is this press release. But it's in Wikipedia, so it did exist, at least in the metaphysical sense. People were convinced of its eventual existence, which is almost as good as existing, especially in North Dakota. Its near-existence is reinforced by a website called "Remember the PSFL," from which the following history was derived:

The PSFL was born on Nov. 1, 1992, at a New York City news conference – ironically held in the same room where the previous furtive attempt at a spring football league, the United States Football League, was introduced.

The league was founded by computer salesman Vincent Sette, who served as its first and only president. The league’s commissioner was Rex Lardner, and Judge Peter Spivak and Walt Michaels were named chairman of the board and director of football operations, respectively.

The league owned the franchises (franchise fee: $250,000) and assigned players based on college attended and regional appeal. Nine teams were announced at the press conference -- Albuquerque, Boston, Columbia, Las Vegas, Little Rock, Miami, Portland, Tampa Bay, and Salt Lake City. Washington was later added as the 10th and final team.

Teams had a 43-man roster with a seven-man developmental squad, and were to play a 16-game schedule. Players would receive a maximum of $40,000 a season, with a $2 million player salary cap. A $1 million cap was put in place for non-player expenses.

The league was to commence operation Feb. 29, 1992, with a game between Utah and Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay. The league’s championship game was to be known as the "Red, White, and Blue Bowl," and was scheduled to be held Sunday, January 5, 1992, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

The PSFL had no media coverage, television deals, or radio deals, so it came as no surprise when the league ran out of money 10 days before the season opener and quietly folded.

Now, this account has some issues, not the least of which being that if it’s to be trusted, the league folded 10 months prior to being announced, and more than a month after its version of the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, for a league whose Super Bowl is named after my old Uncle Lloyd’s Cheap Drunk of Choice, the timeline in the account sorta makes sense.

Outside of a few marginally recognizable names (Tony Rice, Major Harris) having been assigned to team rosters, there was nothing about the PSFL that made you think this was as bona fide a sports league as, say, the Bangladeshi Box Lacrosse Alliance. It certainly lacked the essential vittles of a sports league – having actual players in actual uniforms playing games, having those games broadcast, having Kevin Harlan beller out misinformation about your team in a moosetorian voice, and, sadly, having your team's best players captured for posterity on trading cards.

No trading cards? But didn't I just say the PSFL had an official card licensee?

They did. And that's where the trouble starts.

The official card licensee was not Pro Set, which approached card licenses with the same jeweler's eye used by Lawrence Taylor in evaluating female companions. It was not Upper Deck, whose treated leagues and licensors much the same way the aforementioned female companions treated the aforementioned Mr. Taylor. It was not Pacific, which, to Mr. Taylor’s approval, would have made PSFL flash cards, or SkyBox, which would have done right by the league and paid it, or Star Pics, which would have done right by the league and skipped town without paying. It was not Star Company or Pinnacle or Panini or Playoff or Donruss or Fleer or Topps or even tiny Lime Rock.

Nope. It was Kayo.

The last time we saw Kayo it was dumping millions down that deviated-septum-shaped drain known as boxing cards. Somehow it became convinced that having a semi-dominant position in boxing cards was not the stuff world dominance was made of; however, spring professional football was.

So in a press release dated Oct. 7, 1991 – more than a month before the league was even announced to the world, if accounts can be believed (and based on what we’ve seen … meh), Kayo was named the Official Trading Card of the PSFL.

As part of the deal – talk about a package deal! – Kayo won the right to “sponsor the three combines utilized to test and grade prospective PSFL players, the first of which is scheduled for October 19 and 20 in Atlanta, Ga.”

(Yep – combines scheduled before league announced. Shrewd. Shrewd, I tell ya.)

“We welcome the opportunity to get involved in the PSFL on the ground floor,” Kayo’s Eric Gitter said in his best press-release-speak. “The PSFL fills a void, and we at Kayo are confident the league will be met with instant popularity.”

Okay, so he was slightly wrong. The PSFL was a void, and it was met with instant antipathy. But Kayo was no stranger to antipathy, and seeing as it was named the PSFL’s official card before the PSFL officially existed, it definitely was in on the ground floor.

Too bad it only went down from there.

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