(Source: “Sports Business Journal” article by Ben Fischer)
The United States Football League (USFL) President of Football Operations, Daryl Johnston, expressed surprise at the slight drop in the league’s second-season TV viewership compared to the revamped XFL’s numbers. In a broad-ranging interview, Johnston pledged to focus on the off-season to ascertain why the Fox Sports-owned league didn’t perform better.
Johnston, puzzled by the ratings, stated, “You put our game on television up against our competition, there is no competition. We are far superior in production value, far superior in on-air talent. Recognizable names, recognizable voices. We’re pushing the envelope with all the technology we have.” He went on to question the parallel ratings with their competitors, stating, “To me, to be on par with our competition from a ratings standpoint in Year 2, I’m still trying to figure out: How did that happen? Because our product, in my opinion, when I watch it, they’re not even close.”
According to figures, the USFL viewership across all games in 2023 dropped 16% from its debut season to 601,000 viewers, which is 3% lower than the XFL’s first season, despite the USFL having a more favorable distribution. The XFL chose not to comment on this.
Aside from viewership concerns, Johnston also highlighted the USFL’s challenge with attracting attendance for teams not playing in their home markets. Despite the USFL’s growth from hosting all games in Birmingham in the previous year to four locations this year, five out of the eight teams still do not play in their markets. Johnston acknowledged the difficulties of a hub model and expressed his commitment to rectify this, “We’re still figuring out the attendance thing in the hub model,” he said. “Until we get everybody into their home markets, it’s going to be a challenge. We all know that. We’re trying to find creative ways to deal with it.”
On a positive note, Johnston acknowledged several wins in the league’s sponsorship and football operations for the season. Notably, sponsorship has been strong, with big names such as FedEx, Gatorade, Henry Schein, Jersey Mike’s, Mars, Molson Coors, Rocket Mortgage, T-Mobile, and Wendy’s supporting the USFL. Upper Deck also produces USFL playing cards.
Johnston praised the league’s small staff for effectively managing the transition to four game sites and handling the replacement of four head coaches who left their teams after the first season. Moving forward, Johnston indicated that the USFL aims to keep teams and their players more visible during the offseason.