Last June is was announced that the United States Football League (USFL) would be returning in 2022 on FOX. At the time there wasn’t many details other than that the league would be partially owned by the network and that they were targeting between eight and ten teams.
Many months went by without news, but in October that all changed. This is when we first heard reports that the USFL was in talks with representatives from Birmingham, AL and Jefferson County to host the entirety of their debut season.
Since then we’ve learned a lot more about the league, and the closer we get to kickoff the more legitimacy they’re gaining in the eyes of the fans. For the first time, in a long time, it looks like a spring football league is setup for success. At least setup to make it to a second season, which we haven’t seen in a long time.
Today, we wanted to discuss how the USFL is setup for success, and positioned in a way to do what the others couldn’t; survive. In the span of just four years we’ve seen the AAF and the XFL come and go. Clearly, they had completely different reasons for heading south; but regardless neither are playing today.
When we look back at the graveyard of spring leagues, there’s a couple items that seem to plague them all. Broadcasting and financing. Which leads us to our first point.
When we first learned that the USFL was returning, we knew it would be broadcast on FOX and that the network had a stake in the league. Now that more details have come out, it’s now understood that FOX not only has a stake, they are majority owners in the startup. This effectively cancels out one of the two major issues that startup leagues face when trying to get their feet on the ground.
If that wasn’t a major factor along, the new USFL has signed a multi-year media rights deal with NBC. This will see NBC pay one of their major competitors to air the new league for the first three years. Although numbers haven’t been made public, we’re told the deal is for a ‘significant amount’.
If there was any doubt that NBC wouldn’t be as engaged as FOX, those should be put to rest. During a USFL media event last month the league announced that the debut game between the Birmingham Stallions and New Jersey Generals would be simulcast on both FOX and NBC. This marks the first time a major sporting event would be shared between broadcasters since Super Bowl 1.
Additionally, FOX has been able to leverage their NFL broadcasting rights when it comes to promoting the USFL. Starting during FOX’s last Thursday Night Football broadcast of the season, we’ve seen the network roll out a huge marketing campaign for the new league. Every NFL broadcast since has included a USFL promo, giving the new league major exposure. During the NFC Championship the network aired the first 30-second spot for the USFL, which was viewed by over 50M people.
FOX is now expanding their marketing reach, airing spots for the league during the leadup to NASCAR ‘Clash at the Coliseum’, and it’s expected that a new promo drops during the big race. Looking forward, the Super Bowl is set to air on the leagues other broadcast partner, NBC, and we’d be surprised if we don’t see a mention there as well. Naturally, this would be nothing but good news for the USFL.
We spoke a lot about FOX in regards to broadcasting, but as majority owners they have a huge hand in the funding as well. It’s been reported that the network has earmarked $150M to help fund the league over the first three years. When we look back at the XFL in 2020, bankruptcy filings showed that Vince McMahon sunk over $250M into the league, which shuttered halfway through the first season. Some will try to make comparisons, but there’s more to the story than hard numbers.
The XFL had a lot more leadup team to kickoff, essentially the league had been operational for nearly two years prior to the first game. The USFL on the other hand have been around a relatively short time, and have a three-year plan in place in hopes to keep the league on the field. There’s no doubt about it, the USFL is going barebones to start things out. EVP Football Operations, Daryl Johnston, recently said in an interview the goal for season one is to hit the field, for season two is to get better and to be great by season three.
Additionally, the deal with Birmingham, AL and Jefferson County is not only a huge cost savings measure; they’re also set to get assistance from them to help fund the season in the city.
Which leads up to our last point.
The USFL is set to host all eight of its franchises in Birmingham, AL for its first season. A majority of the games are set to be housed out of the cities new Protective Stadium, with the remaining played out of Legion Field. The deal with the city will see the city host all eight teams in 2022, and as many as four for the leagues second season. The idea is that the USFL would move the teams to their respective cities by the third season.
When we look at the XFL example we used in the previous section, this accounts for a majority of the costs that the lead was forced to eat when COVID hit. The USFL’s strategy not only saves money, it drops the likelihood of a mid-season stoppage dramatically.
Although we don’t know the full plans for the franchise roll-outs, we expect that that the league will open a second hub for 2023. This would fall in the line with the reporting that Birmingham could host as many as four team for the leagues second season.
We’re a little over two months until the USFL hits the field, and at the moment all eyes are on the leagues player selection meeting set for the 22nd and 23rd. The event will see all eight head coaches select a total of 45 pick, ultimately building out a 38-man active roster and 7-man practice squad to lead them through their inaugural season.
When you look at everything that the league has planned, there’s one thing that’s for sure; they’re going out of their way to navigate the failures of the others that came before it.
What are your thoughts of the USFL so far? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.