The USFL, a one-city, eight-team league during the 2022 regular season, is entertaining the possibility of going into their team’s individual markets for their follow-up season in 2023. A necessary step forward. But will they be able to accomplish that goal?
The Fox Sports-owned United States Football League has hired investment bank Allen & Co. to find minority investors to help fund the league’s expansion. Fox reportedly hopes to raise between $150 million and $200 million.
The centralized hub approach by FOX, utilized with the Spring League in 2021, and now the USFL in 2022, has helped lower operational costs. But has limited the league’s interest level across the country, particularly with their city-named teams.
Attendance was abysmal in Birmingham, despite affordable ticket pricing and free tickets distributed to kids who attended the games. Viewership numbers fell immediately after a strong opening week and fizzled as the season progressed.
The ratings were respectable for a first-year league when compared to similar entities in the current sports landscape. But the USFL struggled to win over specific markets or the mainstream football viewing crowd. The lack of attendance and genuine atmosphere at almost all the league’s games were a hindrance for the TV product.
With no local presence in their cities, the USFL struggled to get many of their city-named teams locations to invest in watching their games. As evidenced by the local market viewership numbers published on this site.
Earlier this week, USFLNewhub released the top 10 local market ratings for USFL games on NBC and the USA Network. (Obtained from NBC Universal) Seven of the top ten markets that watched USFL games on NBC/USA are not attached to the league’s city-named teams.
The individual numbers for top designated market areas like New York, Philadelphia, and others failed to make the list and were not disclosed by the network. It’s easy to surmise because they were too low to chart or boast about. As of press time, only the top ten markets were made available by NBC Universal.
Top 10 Local markets for the USFL season across NBC/USA
FOX Sports has aired 21 of the USFL’s 42 games this season. Not counting the upcoming league championship. Fourteen telecasts were on the FOX network, and the other broadcasts were on FS1.
- FOX- (14 games): 891k average viewership per broadcast.
- FS1- (7 games): 284k average viewership er broadcast.
During the 2022 season, here’s a breakdown of how many games per USFL team aired on FOX/FS1.
- Birmingham Stallions: 7 times overall, 6 (FOX), 1 (FS1).
- New Orleans Breakers: 7 times overall, 4 (FOX), 3 (FS1)
- Pittsburgh Maulers: 6 times overall, 3 (FOX), 3 (FS1).
- Houston Gamblers: 5 times overall, 3 (FOX), 2 (FS1).
- Tampa Bay Bandits: 5 times overall, 4 (FOX), 1 (FS1).
- Philadelphia Stars: 5 times overall, 3 (FOX), 2 (FS1).
- New Jersey Generals: 4 times overall, 4 (FOX ), 0 (FS1).
- Michigan Panthers: 3 times overall, 1 (FOX), 2 (FS1).
The chart below shows the top 10 local markets for the USFL season across FOX and FS1. (By household rating provided to USFLNewsHub by Nielsen Media Research). Keep in mind that the market ratings are relative to each city. For example, a 0.66 rating in Albuquerque is not a huge share of that specific location.
Top 10 Local markets for the USFL season across FOX/FS1
|2. New Orleans||1.71|
|4. Tampa-St. Pete (Sarasota)||0.80|
|8. Kansas City||0.67|
|10. Albuquerque-Santa Fe||0.66|
Not surprisingly, Birmingham and New Orleans are the top two local markets again for USFL games on FOX Sports. Just as they were for NBC telecasts. The Breakers and Stallions combined for the most games on FOX. (10). And they faced each other twice on the big network.
Tulsa, for whatever reason, also shows up again as #3 on this chart. A number that should make Tulsa Football’s own Jeremie Poplin smile.
There are other familiar markets showing up for FOX from the NBC list that have no affiliation to the USFL’s city-named teams, like Austin, Texas.
The Bandits, who had four games on FOX, tied for the second-most among USFL teams, had Tampa show up on this list locally. On the flip side, Detroit is fifth overall, despite the Panthers having only one FOX and two FS1 games all season.
Once again, absent from this list are New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Houston. However, a smaller household rating in those markets would account for significantly more viewers than the top local, rated cities. But there’s very little evidence to suggest that the viewership in those cities wasn’t negligible at best.
The positive side is that, in theory, the USFL ratings can improve by default if their teams like New Jersey go into their specific markets in 2023. FOX knows this, which is why they are seeking significant funding. They realize that the USFL will not thrive and be viewed or treated as a fully functioning pro football league until they enter cities. To this point, the USFL has been a low-cost/low-risk venture for FOX Sports.
Even a second hub for Nothern teams won’t necessarily be a happy medium. Although closer in proximity, it’s unlikely that the Tri-State area will embrace the New Jersey Generals fully just because they are playing in a Pittsburgh hub. The 150-200 million that FOX is seeking is so that their teams can eventually honestly go home. And so that the USFL can progress beyond minimalist survival mode.