Mention the Michigan Panthers and most football fans in the state will smile. That team, a charter member of the USFL, won the first title in the original USFL in the early 1980s.
While the Detroit Lions haven’t won a championship since Dwight Eisenhower was president, the Panthers have a title to their credit that people alive actually remember. In 1983, the Panthers won the inaugural USFL championship. The Panthers were one of the most talented teams in the USFL, which emerged as a professional spring/summer football league with designs to eventually compete directly with the NFL.
Unlike in 1983, sports betting is legal in Michigan today, and with Michigan sports betting apps, Michiganders can wager on the team for this iteration of the USFL. Sportsbooks in the state offered odds on the USFL regular season, playoffs, and championship games. Some sports betting operators even offered same-game parlays and team/player futures.
The league crowned a champion in June, when the Birmingham Stallions defeated the Philadelphia Stars. The USFL’s first season back must be classified as a success. It will return for a second season, and unlike the 1980s USFL, every team will return for season two. Plans to expand have not been released, but it’s expected that the USFL will add more teams to join the Michigan Panthers in coming years. By that time, the Panthers will hopefully be playing home games at a stadium somewhere in the Great Lakes State.
Panthers 2022 Season Sets Foundation for USFL Growth
The Michigan Panthers returned in the tradition of the 1980s team, which competed two seasons in the USFL. Though the team struggled to a 2-8 record in the 2022 season, the future could be bright under former NFL coach Jeff Fisher, who has 175 victories in his professional career. Fisher draws on his more than four decades of experience in pro football to serve as general manager of the Panthers as well.
The Panthers defeated the Pittsburgh Maulers twice for their only two victories of the inaugural season of the new United States Football League. But, the Panthers were far from dismal: five of their eight losses were by five points or less. FIsher’s team held a lead in seven games. Rather than a disappointment, the 2022 season felt awkward because of the “traveling team” structure of play which required all eight teams to play in two stadiums in Alabama. Once teams can compete on more solid footing, and in their own stadiums in front of home fans, the competition should be stiffer.
The Panthers and Fisher will add talent to the roster when the USFL holds its draft in April. In 2023, the league will once again play its 10-game schedule from April to June, with playoffs to follow. Next season, the league will expand the sites of games from two to four.
The new USFL, backed by owners not associated with the 1980s league, are taking a measured approach to growing spring/summer professional football. In 1983, when the Panthers were champions of the USFL, the financial backers of the circuit aimed at breaking their way into the NFL as expansion team owners. But the new USFL has as its mission to create a market for summer football.
Football is America’s national pastime (sorry, baseball). It’s the most watched, most profitable, and most popular sport in the country. It also generates more sports betting than any other sport, by far. Fans have college football in the fall, the NFL at the same time, and the playoffs and Super Bowl in January and February. But from March to June, there’s a void. The USFL wants to provide exciting professional football for fans from April to June.
What are the long-term goals of the USFL?
The USFL may be the new kid (returning) to the block, but there were many skilled players in the league in its first reorganized season in 2022. As of Week One of the NFL season, no fewer than 15 USFL players have earned a roster spot with an NFL team. The Dallas Cowboys signed 2022 USFL Most Valuable Player KaVontae Turpin, a dynamic kick returner who starred with the New Jersey Generals.
The league has significant backing from media partners. NBC Sports, its streaming service Peacock, as well as NBC’s partner USA Network, and FS1 have deals to broadcast USFL games over the next few seasons. Ratings were stable and in some markets they saw growth in 2022. A significant victory was achieved in August when the league and Fox Sports settled a trademark dispute, which clears the way for the USFL to continue to use the names of the original USFL teams and others not yet added to the new league.
“We have a multi-year plan to build this football business,” USFL Executive Producer Eric Shanks told Sports Business Journal in an interview in late June. “If anything, the success of season one makes me even more excited than we were before going into Season 2 and beyond.”
The future of the USFL, however successful it is, will include one of its most storied franchises: the Michigan Panthers.