Here we go again. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the World Football League's death were greatly exaggerated. Last weekend in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, representatives from 11 cities—Honolulu, Los Angeles, Portland, San Antonio, Shreveport, Memphis, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Chicago—began a final series of meetings designed to revive the WFL. Their hopes of resurrection lie in a highly structured financial format known as the Hemmeter Plan.
You remember the WFL. It's the league that gave us the Detroit Wheels, a team that listed 122 debts when it filed for bankruptcy after a grand total of 14 games; the Jacksonville Sharks, whose owner, Fran Monaco, and his wife Douglas borrowed $27,000 from their coach and then fired him; the Philadelphia Bell, which admitted that most of the 120,000 people who attended its first two games got in for nothing; the Southern California Sun, whose principal owner was given his 190,000 shares gratis by the prior owners of the club and then pled guilty to a federal charge of making false statements to obtain bank loans; the Houston Texans, who were ranked 16th in a listing of the nation's worst college football teams; the Florida Blazers, whose players went without pay for the last 10 weeks of the season and whose coach had to supply the clubhouse with toilet paper; and the Birmingham Americans, who defeated the Blazers in the first World Bowl and then had their uniforms confiscated on behalf of a creditor.
Nor did the WFL's woes end with last season's curtain. Weren't 75% of the players still owed back salary? Weren't creditors pounding on the door? Hadn't most of the owners dropped from view?
Could any one plan rectify all this? The answer is yes, according to Chris Hemmeter, a polished, confident 35-year-old Honolulu businessman who was one of the two dozen investors who collectively lost $3.2 million in the Hawaiians. Late last season, when the WFL was at its lowest ebb, Hemmeter came up with the plan that now bears his name. Shortly thereafter he was elected president of the league, and for the past four months he has been crusading to save it.
Hemmeter has virtually lived on airplanes, traveling about 15,000 miles a week. Four times he flew from Honolulu or the Pacific Coast to Jacksonville for meetings that were canceled on his arrival. He has been forced to do most of his sleeping in the air. Last week, as details relating to the league's revival grew particularly hectic, he slept through an emergency landing in Denver.
His biggest problem has been establishing creditability for the league, an embarrassing process for Hemmeter who is remarkably open and aboveboard in his dealings. When courses of action are suggested that don't appear to him "fair and proper," he is likely to protest, "That would make us seem like a bunch of WFL guys."
Hemmeter's position as chairman of the executive committee of the Bank of Honolulu gained him access to responsible financial figures in most of the cities he visited. Seven of the 11 ownership groups that met in New York had a bank director among their members. Only a handful of last year's owners remain: John Bassett in Memphis; John Bosacco in Philadelphia (his team is set to play in the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field); several investors in the Hawaiians; and Sam Battistone, a part owner of the 1974 Hawaiians who recently purchased a substantial portion of the Southern California franchise.
The Hemmeter Plan that has generated so much enthusiasm is designed to eliminate the old WFL's wonderful fringe benefits—empty promises, bankruptcy, fraud, Internal Revenue Service liens. The basic idea is to make the team's expenses relate to the team's revenues. Specifically, 42% of a team's gate receipts and TV-radio income will go to the players and coaches. Stadium rentals will be roughly 10% of the gate. League assessments will be 10�%; of income from the gate, TV-radio and commercial properties, which include pennants, programs and bobble-head dolls.
That adds up to roughly two-thirds of a team's income. The remaining portion—37�% of the gate and larger percentages of the other income sources (the formula is obviously complex, its details taking up 108 typewritten pages)—will go into an "Operating Expense and Profit Account" that will cover fixed costs such as office salaries and rent, travel expenses, equipment, publicity expenses, printing and mailing costs and telephone and telegraph. Hemmeter has put a ceiling of $650,000 on these costs. This is an austerity figure for pro football, but WFL members have developed a singular appreciation of the wisdom of economizing. Teams must allocate a minimum of 31% of gross revenues to cover these fixed expenses.
This week each owner will have to come up with between $600,000 and $1.2 million, depending on the club's liabilities. And it must be real money, not promises. Of this, a flat sum of $75,000 goes to the league to help pay its debts, and another chunk is for a 15% down payment on unpaid 1974 player salaries. The remainder, which must amount to at least 5525,000, is the club's working capital. The money must be deposited in an account subject to league inspection.