Brian Michael Cooper, who left a Big Law partnership to run the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks, is now advising on another upstart football league.
The United States Football League is preparing to relaunch next spring, some 36 years after it folded following an antitrust victory against the National Football League that awarded the would-be NFL rival a mere $3 in damages.
In a June 3 press statement, the USFL disclosed a broadcast partnership with Fox Sports Inc. and plans to return with eight teams in early 2022. The relaunch would come nearly four decades after the USFL debuted—former President Donald Trump once owned the league’s New Jersey Generals—and put it in competition with another spring football operation.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who teamed up with a group of investors to purchase the bankrupt XFL last summer, also planned to have that league return to the field sometime next year. The XFL’s new owners said in March they had postponed their relaunch plans to discuss a potential partnership with the Canadian Football League.
Cooper was one of three lawyers tapped by the XFL’s former owner, wrestling magnate Vince McMahon, to each run one of the league’s eight teams. McMahon ultimately put the XFL into bankruptcy last year after the league suspended its operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After the XFL’s collapse, Cooper was one of several partners to join Frost Brown Todd last summer when the law firm opened an office in Houston, where he had previously run his own sports consultancy and been an entertainment, media, and sports practice partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith.
Cooper is now leading a team of lawyers from Frost Brown Todd representing The Spring League LLC and its founder, CEO, and general counsel Brian Woods, the latter told Bloomberg Law in an email. Woods, whose five-year-old Spring League serves as a developmental league and showcase for football players seeking opportunities in the NFL, CFL, and other professional leagues, is a co-founder of the new USFL.
“I’m extremely passionate about football and the opportunity to work with Fox Sports and to bring back the USFL in 2022 was an endeavor worth pursuing,” Woods said in a statement announcing the league’s relaunch.
He added that “we look forward to providing players a new opportunity to compete in a professional football league and giving fans everywhere the best football viewing product possible during what is typically a period devoid of professional football.”
Fox Sports said that it owns a minority equity stake in the company that controls the new USFL, which is using the same stars-and-stripes-based red, white, and blue logo that once made its predecessor famous.
Doug Flutie, a former Generals quarterback who went on to play in the NFL and CFL, said in an interview distributed by Fox Sports that the reborn USFL will be “pro football at the highest level, it’s just being played in the spring.”
Woods’ bid to become the latest lawyer focused on creating a viable alternative to the NFL by bringing back the old USFL, a league whose innovations during its brief existence have been chronicled in books and documentary films, is being contested by at least one veteran football executive.
Steve Ehrhart, an attorney and former president and general manager of the USFL’s Memphis Showboats who was the league’s executive director in its final year, told the Philadelphia Inquirer last week that he and several other former league executives still own its intellectual property.
“I was surprised when I heard about it,” Ehrhart said of the new USFL. “I want to dig into it and see who they’re claiming they acquired these rights from. Because it didn’t come from any legitimate source.”
Ehrhart now serves as executive director of the AutoZone Liberty Football Classic, an annual postseason college football bowl game played in the 58,000-seat Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. Ehrhart told the Inquirer that he and other ex-USFL officials still receive royalties from the logos they’ve licensed for former teams in the league, noting they’ve “been in continuous use for nearly 40 years.”
While Ehrhart didn’t respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg Law about his next steps, he told the Inquirer that to avoid being “antagonistic” he and his old USFL colleagues are open to sitting down with Woods’ group to discuss the matter.
Woods told Bloomberg Law via email that Eric Lamb, a partner specializing in IP matters at Frost Brown Todd in Indianapolis, had “assisted us with securing all the necessary registrations for IP related to former USFL league and team marks.”
Lamb, Cooper, and Frost Brown Todd didn’t respond to requests for comment about their work on behalf of Woods and The Spring League. Marc Sausa, a spokesman for The Spring League, said Frost Brown Todd secured all necessary IP for the USFL and its former teams via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“The Spring League has done its due diligence and acquired all the live registered football trademarks for USFL and United States Football League,” Sausa said. “There are no other entities that own these registered marks.”
Public records show that Lamb filed for trademarks this month on the USFL name and former teams like the Arizona Outlaws, Birmingham Stallions, Jacksonville Bulls, Memphis Showboats, Orlando Renegades, Pittsburgh Maulers, Portland Breakers, San Antonio Gunslingers, Tampa Bay Bandits, and Washington Federals.
Lamb and The Spring League have also sought trademarks for former USFL team nicknames such as the Gamblers, Gold, Invaders, Stars, and Wranglers.
The Spring League, which requires its players to pay the league itself for the right to play in front of scouts, is currently comprised of eight teams—the Alphas, Aviators, Blues, Conquerors, Generals, Jousters, Linemen, and Sea Lions—that split their games between Houston and Indianapolis.
Woods, who started The Spring League in 2017, was a former adviser to the Alliance of American Football, another startup spring league whose financing fell through and filed for bankruptcy two years ago.