XF, USFL, and NFL: It's a New Playing Field for Football League Competition

Jack Hoover

Jack Hoover

Monday, April 17, 2023
XF, USFL, and NFL: It's a New Playing Field for Football League Competition

Photo by Dave Adamson, courtesy of Unsplash

The NFL has been a giant in the sports entertainment industry since 1972, when the league officially passed professional baseball in popularity. The NFL achieved that feat shortly after the creation of Monday Night Football, which led to Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football. Additionally, the 1972 season had the first and only team to complete an undefeated regular season and post-season under the helm of all-time great Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula. The NFL had no true competition from any other football league besides the AFL in the 50s and 60s before they merged. Now the National Football League is going to have to compete with the XFL and USFL. 

The USFL and XFL are not new to this situation as they have competed against the NFL before, although they both failed. First, the USFL attempted to test the waters by having a professional football league in the spring when the Super Bowl ended. For a while, the USFL stayed afloat and was considered the most competitive non-NFL league since the AFL. Unfortunately, weak ownership and the NFL's 'dominance' caused the league to shut down. Similarly, the XFL had failed to compete with the NFL due to poor management and bad television broadcasting. Despite these league's failures, they are attempting to compete with NFL with new-found experience. The difference between the XFL and USFL this time around is that they must compete with each other while also competing with the NFL. 

The XFL has attempted numerous times to compete with the NFL but has continually failed. This time things are different because the XFL has a new pair of CEOs at the helm. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his ex-wife, Danny Garcia, are in charge. This will be great for the reinstated XFL league because of the advertisement and branding Johnson could bring. He is one of the most famous people in the world. The Rock has accumulated extremely deep pockets from being a WWE star, actor, and entrepreneur. Additionally, Danny Garcia has a net worth of 40 million from being a successful media manager and film producer, so she is familiar with the entertainment industry. Furthermore, the XFL is attempting to incorporate more interesting and unique gameplay to gain some traction. The league wants to people a break from the ‘seriousness’ of the NFL and provide the ‘54th’ man an opportunity to make it back to the NFL. For clarity, the "54th man" is the last man cut on an NFL roster and according to Dwayne Johnson was the "54th Man" himself. So far, the quality of XFL games has been quite good, but the viewership says otherwise. The debut game for XFL 3.0 only averaged 1.57 million viewers in its 2023 opener compared to its 3.3 million viewers in 2020. The USFL averaged 3.06 million viewers in its inaugural game last April. The reason is for the lower viewership is unclear, but I think it's the lack of interest in football right now and the particular weekend the debut happened on. The XFL has a long way to go before they reach the viewership number of the NFL. For comparison, the NFL had 19.8 million viewers in their season opener this year between the Seahawks and the Broncos. 

Football is not as popular right now, I think, because people want a proper break. People are watching their favorite team make a competitive playoff push in the NBA and MLB is about to have its season opener. The XFL held its debut during an incredibly busy weekend of college basketball (around 171 games). Of course, I cannot forget about the NBA all-star weekend and especially Mac McClung's dunk contest outing. Overall, the XFL was unlucky with their timing, but considering the circumstances, they did okay. They just need consistent and above average results to stay afloat. Furthermore, I believe that ESPN/Disney are likely to provide an incredible amount of publicity for the league. So I think the XFL is fine for now.  

Next, the USFL quietly has been successful considering all the failures that have come before it. It just had its first draft, which is a good sign for the league; there is interest to play. It seems like the USFL has been able to generate some real NFL talent from its last season. USFL's MVP KaVontae Turpin made the Pro Bowl roster for the Dallas Cowboys in his first year in the league. Fox and NBC, who are partners with the NFL, were quite proud of the results of the 2022 USFL season and optimistic for the next season. According to Awful Announcing, Fox executive Michael Mulvihill said, "All we wanted to do is demonstrate that spring football can have viewership at the levels of Premier League, NHL regular season, Formula One or MLS … We want to show we belong in that category, and I think that happened … The USFL worked for us on a bunch of fronts.”

NBC Sports executive Jon Miller asked, “Is it a profitable property? All things put together, I would say yes, it was a profitable property for us.” Miller said NBC was happy with the product, the play quality, the joint production with Fox, and the viewership. “It did what we hoped it would do, and we are excited to begin planning, once this season is over, to talk about 2023.” I think the guidance of Fox Sports Executives and NBC Sports Executives will be great guidance for USFL executives. Companies like Fox and NBC can provide invaluable experience and knowledge for the broadcasting of a young football league. 

Unlike the USFL in the 1980s, they have much better management now. Chet Simmons was the original commissioner of the league and was bossed around by a team owner named Donald Trump. Trump convinced the league to move the season from the spring to fall to directly to compete with the NFL. It was a horrid choice, and they were too far young a league to compete with the NFL. Hopefully, the league's newfound management can lead the league toward success, and it is so far on the right path. 

I predict the USFL will be able to finish its TV deal with Fox and NBC but will be bought out by the NFL by the end of the contract. I like what the USFL is doing, but the XFL just has so much more potential than the USFL due to its branding, publicity, and budgeting. This allows the XFL to aquire a larger and greater talent pool than the USFL. More money means more players at this level of football. The only reason the USFL will be able to finish out its TV contract is that it has experienced managing and the talent level in football is much greater and more competitive nowadays. It's estimated that 1.1 million people play high school football every year and 6.5% go on to play college football, then 1.6% of any college players go on to play in the NFL. That leaves about 1,144 NFL pro players and only 800 players get to start in the NFL. Thus, the spring leagues have a lot of talent to choose from. Eventually, the XFL is bound to take off but not on the level of the NFL. I am talking about a G-league, which is a lower-level league for the NBA, for the NFL, which perfectly aligns with the Dwayne Johnson concept of the 54th man. Furthermore, I think the XFL will partner with the NFL and become a developmental league. Some people might say my prediction would be a failure for the USFL. I say otherwise, since they were able to last longer than most other spring leagues and make a solid profit. 

What would happen in the USFL and XFL merged? I think that would be quite interesting because ESPN/Disney, Fox, NBC, and ABC would have the TV rights. Putting all the talent of spring leagues, the branding of Dwyane Johnson, and the magnitude of the TV deals together could lead to the ultimate spring league. Furthermore, all this huge merger could be great for Birmingham entertainment since we have the champions of the USFL, the Stallions. Who knows if this potential outcome could cause the NFL some trouble in terms of competition? 

Overall, I feel like we are going to have to be patient with this situation and give the spring leagues time to hit the ground running. Without patience, we could lose interest in this old but developing concept of spring football. I think we have yet to scratch the surface of these leagues' potential, especially the XFL's. So, people, sit back and relax and get prepared for what I think might be a wild ride for the NFL, USFL, and XFL over the next few years. 

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