Recently, there have been multiple reports about the USFL branching out from its current eight-team one-city league structure, and it’s the only logical step forward.
As has been reported for quite some time at USFL News Hub, there’s never been any doubt about the new iteration of the USFL returning for a 2023 season. The bare-bones financial approach to the 2022 season ensured that reality. The short-term fail-safe strategy started with FOX’s tie-in to the Spring League, which aired games on their network in 2021, and also had a similar Hub/financial model to the USFL.
USFL Team Markets
The next phase for the new USFL is of utmost importance. While operating at a centralized location cut down the league’s overall spending. And helped eliminate the risks that have dissolved similar entities in the past. It also limited the league’s broad interest across the country.
League owner FOX and partner NBC are fully aware of this reality. After all, the reports of them looking for investors to help fund a transition into individual team markets clearly show that the USFL knows it needs to take the next step toward becoming a fully-fledged pro football league.
New York Post’s Business reporter Josh Kosman recently reported that The Fox Sports-owned United States Football League had hired investment bank Allen & Co. to find minority investors to help fund the league’s expansion into local markets. Fox’s reported plan is to raise between $150 million and $200 million.
The fact is that FOX Sports has used the 2022 USFL season as a de facto infomercial. The main goal was to showcase the league to lure potential team owners/investors to cover eventual rising costs if they do have their teams operate in their respective cities. Achieving that end-game goal is uncertain at the moment.
If the league is unable to secure the funding needed, it has been suggested recently by members of the USFL publicly that they could install a Northern hub next year to complement the Birmingham setup, split the difference, and or have their teams travel to their cities for select games during the 2023 season.
The thought process is that by going into individual team markets, the cities will promote the USFL locally and embrace the league more than they did in 2022.
The Hub in Birmingham produced modest attendance for the hometown Stallions, ranging from 12-17k per game with free tickets distributed. But the other seven teams saw crowds in the low hundreds at best for their games in Birmingham.
When compared to the ever-evolving and lowered bar for traditional live Sports TV viewership. The overall TV ratings for 2022 USFL were respectable in the landscape using those criteria. The league averaged under 700,000 viewers per telecast for the regular season. The main network games on NBC/FOX were under a million viewers per game, not counting the opening week sample numbers. However, based on the market numbers provided by NBC Universal, there’s no doubt that some of the league’s team-named cities didn’t come on board for the ride this season. The Hub certainly played a factor.
The USFL has five of the country’s top 15 ‘Designated Market Areas” for TV viewership. NY/NJ (#1), Philadelphia (#4), Houston (#8), Tampa (#13) and Michigan (#15). Pittsburgh is 26th, Birmingham is 45th, and New Orleans 50th.
Start-up leagues like the USFL tend to look towards the more significant TV markets to make up for the lack of the league’s overall size compared to leagues like the NFL. It’s a sensible strategy. However, what’s fascinating about spring pro football leagues, is that when the top ten market ratings for the games come to light, it helps paint a fascinating picture of where the genuine interest lies.
For example, the XFL in 2020 had strong market ratings for their cities, particularly in St. Louis, but also consistently had different cities in Ohio as one of their highest-rated markets for each game. (Columbus, Dayton, etc) Even though the league had no teams in that state, it extended beyond Ohio State star Cardale Jones in games he played for the D.C. Defenders.
The USFL has quite a few of their “non-cities” watching their games in 2022.
USFL Top 10 Local TV Market Ratings On NBC/USA
Through the first eleven weeks of the USFL season, last week’s playoff games included. Seventeen of the USFL’s 42 games heading into Sunday’s championship game have aired on NBC/USA. With four other games airing exclusively on NBC’s Peacock streaming service. (Viewership totals are not presently available for Peacock broadcasts)
- NBC- (9 games): 1.115 million average viewership per telecast
- USA- (8 games): 334k average viewership per telecast
During the 2022 season, here’s a breakdown of how many games per USFL team aired on NBC/USA.
- Michigan Panthers: 7 overall., 3 (NBC), 4 (USA).
- New Jersey Generals: 6 overall, 2 (NBC ), 4 (USA).
- Birmingham Stallions: 5 overall, 4 (NBC), 1 (USA).
- New Orleans Breakers: 5 overall, 3 (NBC), 2 (USA)
- Houston Gamblers: 4 overall, 2 (NBC), 2 (USA).
- Tampa Bay Bandits: 4 overall, 2 (NBC), 2 (USA).
- Philadelphia Stars: 4 overall, 2 (NBC), 2 (USA)
- Pittsburgh Maulers: 3 overall, 0 (NBC), 3 (USA)
Michigan, New Orleans, and Birmingham combined for ten games on NBC. So it’s not surprising that those league-named city teams had the most local viewership interest. The USFL’s best individual season rating occurred in week one on NBC, when the Panthers and Houston Gamblers game averaged 2.1 million viewers on Easter Sunday. The most recent NBC showing between Birmingham and New Orleans averaged 998,000 viewers.
The Panthers and Generals got a lot of play on cable on the USA Network. The Pittsburgh Maulers, who won one game all season, had the lowest viewed game on NBC/USA with a week eight showing on cable, with the Generals attracting only 208,000 viewers. As it turns out, the Maulers performed poorly in more than just the football field.
The chart below shows the top 10 local markets for the USFL season across NBC and USA Network. (Numbers provided to USFLNewsHub by NBC Universal). The market ratings are relative to each market.A 0.90 rating in Knoxville is not a huge share of that specific location.
Top 10 local markets for the USFL season across NBC/USA
The most interesting part about the chart above is that seven of the top ten markets that watched USFL games on NBC/USA are not attached to the league’s city-named teams. Although, places like Austin and Ft. Myers are in the states of Texas and Florida, like Houston and Tampa. However, those specific locations didn’t turn out for Gamblers and Bandits games.
Markets like Tulsa and Knoxville showed up to watch USFL games, despite having no league affiliation with their cities. It’s improbable that Albuquerque, New Mexico, will get a pro football team in the future. But it’s cool to see that specific area of the country show interest in spring pro football.
It’s an encouraging sign that the Stallions, and Breakers, the two teams with the lowest DMA’s in the USFL, watched the league the most.
However, markets like New York, Tampa, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia are nowhere to be found in the league’s top ten local markets. Perhaps playing in those specific markets in the future could help drum up interest.
Because counties in New Jersey watch NYC stations predominately, the state is assigned to the New York DMA. You’d like to see better local interest for the Generals in that market. Having the team play all their games in the South didn’t help.
Monitoring the moves of leagues like the USFL has always been a fascinating endeavor. The business side often far overshadows the football side. From a sports perspective, It’s very similar to tracking an individual team’s activity during an offseason, except with much higher stakes involved. When and how the USFL moves into individual markets will help determine whether the league will thrive in the long term. FOX already has the early survival part down. But the thriving part comes next.
Before the league moves forward to 2023, The 2022 USFL season concludes this Sunday evening at Tom Benson Hall Of Fame Stadium when the Birmingham Stallions and Philadelphia Stars square off for the league’s championship on FOX TV.