Historian Denis Crawford on Sports Ownership Mistakes; Will the New USFL Avoid Repeating Mistakes?

Historian Denis Crawford on Sports Ownership Mistakes; Will the New USFL Avoid Repeating Mistakes?


Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

My guest for Episode #157 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Denis Crawford, a historian who is the author of books including his latest, The Life and Teams of Johnny F. Bassett: Maverick Entrepreneur of North American Sports.

Denis M. Crawford holds a PhD in American Studies, teaches at Youngstown State University, and is managing editor for “The Coffin Corner,” the official magazine of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He is an honorary member of the Bucs UK, the largest American football fan club in the United Kingdom, and a 2010 inductee to the Bucs UK Hall of Fame. 

Denis is also my uncle — even though he's just a few years older than me.

In today's episode, Denis shares his “favorite mistake” story about not taking advantage of sports journalism internships in college. Why did his young “arrogance” get in the way of his dream of becoming a play-by-play announcer? We talk about what Denis learned and we talk about some of the mistakes made by Johnny Bassett as a professional sports owner.

Part of the conversation looks back at the original USFL — and some of the battles between Bassett and Donald Trump (then-owner of the New Jersey Generals). With the new USFL launching this week, will the league manage to prevent its past mistakes?

We also talk about questions and topics including:

  • Bassett’s biggest mistakes? And I ask this realizing that he was generally the most successful owner in failed leagues…
  • When he owned the Toronto Toros, what was the worst mistake that he could have made?
  • Mistakes in overpaying players behind budgets or salary caps…
  • Bassett seemed determine to avoid repeating mistakes from the WFL (and WHA) — how did the USFL end up undermining that?
  • Trump the businessman… decided to move the league to the fall to compete directly with the NFL
  • Did you get to read the letter Bassett sent to Trump?
  • You got to interview Wayne Gretzky and some other Hall of Fame athletes  — did you have jitters?
  • A new version of the USFL (or at least a rebranded Spring League) will launch April 16 2022… If the original USFL didn’t learn from Johnny Bassett’s WFL mistakes, will they avoid repeating the same mistakes this time?
  • How have leagues like MLS and the WNBA avoided the fate of Bassett’s leagues and others?

Scroll down to find:

  • Video of the episode
  • Quotes
  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript

Find Denis, on social media:

Watch the Episode:


"Never just assume the opportunity will lead to something, unless you respect it enough to put all of your effort into it."
"And even the coach said that [owner] Bassett needs to be more concerned with being a boss and not everybody's buddy."
"My understanding of the Arena [Football] League is they expanded too quickly. They kind of made a mistake. The United States Football League did, they expanded too quickly."

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.