The TV ratings are in for USFL 2023’s opening weekend. The league returned for year two in familiar territory with three over-the-air broadcast network games on FOX and NBC. But unlike last year, the USFL entered the space with a competing XFL season already in progress.
How did the returning league fare in the Spring Pro Football League showdown?
USFL 2023: Opening Week TV Ratings On FOX, NBC, And FS1
The USFL’s kickoff game Saturday afternoon on FOX at 4:30 ET between the Philadelphia Stars and the Memphis Showboats averaged 837,000 viewers. A year ago, the league’s debut game on FOX averaged 1.75 million viewers on FOX and 1.310 million viewers on NBC in a joint simulcast.
The USFL 2023 return debut extended on FOX with a primetime game between the 2022 champion Birmingham Stallions and New Jersey Generals. The second part of the Saturday doubleheader averaged 864,000 viewers.
The XFL, which aired Saturday night on ESPN2, averaged 235,000 viewers. The Orlando-San Antonio game started during the tail-end of the Stars-Showboats telecast and then ran head-to-head with the Stallions-Generals on FOX.
Sunday saw the USFL return on NBC at Noon ET with a game between the Michigan Panthers and Houston Gamblers. The telecast averaged 974,000 viewers. Last season’s NBC Sunday afternoon Week 1 USFL game averaged 2.1 million viewers.
The XFL on ESPN, which ran concurrently on Sunday at Noon against the USFL, saw the D.C. Defenders-Arlington Renegades game average 670,000 viewers.
The Week 1 finale for USFL 2023 on FS1, pitting the New Orleans Breakers and Pittsburgh Maulers, averaged 483,000 viewers on Sunday night. The game was rated 37th out of the top 150 Cable TV shows in the 18-49 demographic.
Opening Week TV Ratings Analysis
As predicted and expected. The USFL took round one in their opening weekend’s TV ratings war with the XFL. The three over-the-air network games gave the USFL a clear edge head-to-head with the XFL, who aired three cable telecasts.
The USFL scored 3.162 million viewers for their four broadcasts in week one. The XFL had 2.35 million in their four games.
The fear going into week one of season two of the USFL was two-fold. Firstly, whether the league could match or come close to what they did in last year’s opening weekend numbers. Secondly, whether the existence of the XFL would splinter what experts believe is a limited audience for this type of product.
On Sunday during the noon timeslot, the two leagues combined for 1.64 million viewers. USFL with 974k on NBC, the XFL with 670k on ESPN.
Considering these factors, the numbers for the USFL’s TV Ratings in week one fared respectably. But there was definitely a cap on their viewership due to the splintering of the audience.
The key with year two of the revived USFL is retaining the audience they obtained in year one and then building upon that foundation. For long-term growth, the league needs to convince casual sports viewers, who may have sampled the league out of curiosity a year ago, to stick around this time more than last season.
Because quite frankly, there’s a lot of doubt and hesitation regarding viewers investing time into these leagues. Returning for year two could sway some mainstream football fans, who were dismissive of the league a year ago, that the USFL is here to stay and won’t go away as other leagues in this space have over the years.
That’s the most crucial test for the USFL in year two is growing for year three and becoming a viable entity that not only survives but potentially thrives.
USFL Week 2 TV Schedule
Saturday, April 22
Houston at New Orleans (Birmingham), 12:30 p.m. (USA)
Memphis at Birmingham (Birmingham), 7 p.m. (FOX)
Sunday, April 23
New Jersey at Pittsburgh (Canton), 1 p.m. (NBC)
Michigan at Philadelphia (Canton), 7 p.m. (FS1)