World Football League and the Charlotte Hornets

The World Football League (WFL) is one of the better-known rival leagues to the NFL. The league was founded in 1973 by Gary Davidson, a businessman with a proclivity for rivals leagues. He started the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1967 to compete with the NBA and the World Hockey League (WHA) in 1972 to compete with the NHL. Davidson had described a great need for a challenger to the NFL, who had, “become arrogant and fat. We’re ready to take on the big boys now.”

With its inception in 1974, the WFL played just two seasons with 12 teams. The initial plan was to produce a 20-game season, six more games than the NFL, and unlike the NFL, back-to-back games were common. In its inaugural season, the league initially had good attendance at the first few games. However, it became clear that teams were overinflating their attendance numbers, and due to underfunded and mismanaged organizations, attendance began to suffer. With many franchises in trouble, many new clubs were able to join the league with a lower franchise fee to meet the 12-team quota, and most teams were severely underfunded – unable to meet even the most basic team expenses.

The Charlotte Hornets started life as the beleaguered New York Stars. Midway through their first season, Bell negotiated their move to Charlotte, North Carolina, purchased them, and renamed them the Charlotte Hornets.  Pro golfer Arnold Palmer was the first of a group of investors in the Hornets. The Hornets returned for the second season, despite not coming close to selling out any games. When the WFL ceased operations in October, the Hornets finished with a 6-5 record.

Against all odds, the WFL returned for the 1975 season; however, this time, the season was only half-completed before the league went out of business. In its first year, the WFL in lost an estimated $20 million. At the time, it was the worst sports venture disaster financially in the 20th Century.

Despite its financial and managerial blunders, the WFL was able to produce a quality football product, including talented players and coaches. When the league folded, Bell recommended to Dan Rooney of the NFL Expansion Committee that Charlotte should be considered a future NFL city. Many of the Charlotte Hornets players and all of its coaches were signed to the NFL, similar to many other WFL teams. Notable WFL names include Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield, Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, John Gilliam, George Sauer, Jack Pardee, Lindy Infante, and Marty Schottenheimer. Head Coach Bob Gibson became offensive coach of the New York Giants and Lindy Infante became head coach of the Green Bay Packers.