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USFL vs. XFL: How The Two Leagues Will Matchup Head To Head On TV And Beyond

The USFL returns in Mid-April for its second season. They will re-enter the spring pro football space while the XFL is wrapping up its 2023 campaign.

Back in November of 2021 at XFLNewshub. I pondered the question of how these two professional football leagues would co-exist in the same landscape.

From April 15th through May 13th specifically, and perhaps way beyond, we will find out.

Let’s look at how the two leagues match up, From their overall construction and business plans right down to the upcoming head-to-head overlapping games on television in a few weeks.

Alternative Pro Football League Showdown

This type of alternative pro football league showdown almost happened in a galaxy not too far away. However, it feels like an eternity ago.

In 2019, the Alliance of American Football raced out in front of Vince McMahon’s returning XFL. A year before, a direct collision between the two leagues would’ve taken place in February of 2020. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and the AAF folded before they could get to that confrontation.

However, the mere presence of the AAF changed how the XFL did business. The 2020 league had to shift its strategy, particularly in choosing markets the Alliance had already secured. In fact, one of the cities that missed the cut in the AAF’s rush to start first, St. Louis, ended up being a godsend for the XFL, then and now.

Ultimately, The XFL in 2020 benefitted from the AAF’s presence and absence, and it forced them to up their game. The same thing is happening now between the USFL and XFL.

The players who participate in these leagues are also benefitting from the existence of the XFL and USFL. Over 800 players are playing professional football in the U.S. during the non-NFL season and getting valuable exposure and work. And the presence of the XFL and USFL has forced both leagues to do right by the players.

To that effect, The United Steelworkers Union partnered with the United Football Players Association to protect players in both leagues. The players have unionized. And the USW has worked out a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the USFL. The XFL is next.

The USFL-XFL War Has Already Begun

There are some apparent differences between the fantasy competition that almost happened three years ago, to the very real one about to take place between the USFL and XFL.

Unlike the near war with the AAF, the two current leagues don’t occupy the same exact playing calendar. However, they will go head-to-head for a brief period starting in mid-April. But that doesn’t mean that the two leagues haven’t begun competing already.

The war for football talent and attention has already begun. The two leagues, particularly the USFL, have taken several subtle jabs since last summer. Including the USFL’s several months-long ad campaign with the slogan and mantra of being “real football” and not a Hollywood knockoff. A direct shot at two of XFL 2023’s owners, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Dany Garcia.

Constructing A League While Another Opposing One Exists

One of the pressing questions about having two non-NFL pro leagues was if there would be enough quality football talent to field 16 teams.

The prevailing thought by many was that whoever got to the party first and locked up players would be the victor. It’s something that long-time NFL executive Bill Polian touted as an advantage over the XFL when heading up the AAF’s personnel department.

The current XFL found workarounds in building its eight-team rosters from scratch, with the USFL already established.

Forty-two of the XFL’s players were on NFL practice squads in 2022. Over a dozen of those players finished the year on NFL team rosters. Over 80 percent of the league’s players have NFL experience. And are from the last three NFL draft classes.

But the XFL has also added players and coaches from the USFL.

Over 70 players who played for USFL teams in 2022 jumped ship to the XFL; some were free to do so because they had signed NFL contracts last summer. And then became free agents when NFL teams released them. The others opted not to sign a bilateral clause and waited for their contracts to expire in the new year.

Over a dozen USFL 2022 assistant coaches also migrated to the XFL.

There are two main points of contention, and perhaps the ultimate selling point for the XFL over the USFL.

From February to May, the XFL’s playing calendar opens up an ideal window for players to latch onto and potentially make a 53-player roster on NFL teams, rather than mid-July when the USFL season expires. And the fact that all XFL teams play in their actual cities with genuine home and road games. Rather than what in 2022 was a cost-effective measure by the USFL, having all their teams situated in Birmingham.

The balance of attracting fans while still controlling costs

The USFL is entering phase two of its plan by adding three additional hubs in 2023. With Memphis, Michigan, and neutral site Ohio hosting games. It should help create a better atmosphere for the league’s games live and on television. Something that was lacking in the USFL’s 2022 product.

Part of these leagues’ revenue and sponsorship puzzle is having a presence in cities and paid customers at games. No matter the number.

It’s challenging for a tri-state area market like New York/New Jersey to embrace a Generals team that plays in other states and has no attachment to their namesake.

Both leagues have taken a hub approach to cut costs. The XFL has also shown frugality, eliminating travel and facility costs with all their teams stationed and traveling to and from Texas. The new ownership group for the XFL has dipped its toes in the waters financially rather than diving in head first to counter the inevitable costs of operating an upstart professional football league. As evidenced by the league’s meager $120,000 spent on marketing/promotion leading up to their 2023 launch.

Both leagues are playing the long game looking to survive in a space where so many similar entities have died trying.

USFL Versus The XFL In TV Viewership

There is one specific area where the USFL has a clear advantage over the XFL. And that’s their television and exposure package despite both leagues being attached to powerhouse sports networks. The USFL’s TV schedule with FOX/NBC is way more favorable than the XFL’s with Disney.

Ironically enough, the short-term success and promise of the XFL in 2020 led to their TV partners from three years ago, FOX and Disney reentering the spring pro football space.

Not only does the USFL have two major networks airing and promoting their games on FOX and NBC. But they have also course corrected from 2022 by creating a more viewer-friendly and streamlined schedule for the 2023 season. All USFL games will be easy to find on Saturdays and Sundays. On top of that, 29 of the USFL broadcasts will be on FOX and NBC.

In contrast, the XFL in 2023 has only eight over-the-air broadcast network games on ABC. With the majority of their games (35) airing on cable. FX, ESPN2, and ESPN.

Network and Cable TV Ratings For The USFL and XFL

Comparing the two league’s TV ratings will be an interesting exercise. The current XFL has been compared heavily to the 2.0 league from three years ago. However, in the coming weeks, XFL 2023’s viewership numbers will be sized up directly with the USFL.

There’s a significant difference in comparing over-the-air network games versus cable telecasts. The two need to be separated into different categories.

The USFL’s overall 2022 regular season average viewership was under 700,000 per game. (658,000). That’s if you include the average viewership of their cable broadcasts. (309k average) The USFL’s low point in viewership was in the final week of its regular season. A Sunday night game on FS1 between the New Orleans Breakers and Houston Gamblers averaged 181,000 viewers.  The USFL’s last regular-season week of games on FOX, FS1, and the USA Network averaged 337,750 viewers. 

USFL 2022 Regular Season TV Ratings Breakdown By Network

  • FOX- (13 games): 886k
  • NBC-(8 games): 1.13 million
  • FS1- (7 games): 284k
  • USA- (8 games): 334k

There are so many layers of context to the tv viewership picture. Pertaining to what networks the games air on, what the competition is, and when the games air.

The shining and most favorable moment for the 2022 USFL came in their Championship game on FOX. The Sunday night telecast, which saw the Birmingham Stallions defeat the Philadelphia Stars to win the league’s championship, averaged 1.517 million viewers. It was the USFL’s highest individual game rating on FOX since the league’s opening week in April last year. (1.75M). Despite the ups, downs, and lulls in interest during the season. The USFL got to the finish line with a smile.

XFL 2023 will hope for the same happy ending to its season; to this point, their four network games on ABC have averaged 1.225 million viewers. Their high mark on cable came in week one’s ESPN/FX simulcast, which averaged a combined 1.141 million viewers.

USFL-XFL Head To Head TV Schedule

Now that we have got the preliminaries out of the way. Let’s get to the main event.

From the start of the USFL season on April 15th to the XFL Championship game on May 13th. There will be seven instances where games from the two leagues overlap on television. On four occasions, the dueling leagues will have games that start within thirty minutes of each other.

For a little while, Spring pro football fans who have an interest in both leagues will have to pick and choose what games they want to watch. There will be days when die-hard enthusiasts decide to watch all the games from both leagues that don’t overlap.

Let’s break down the overlapping games week by week from 4/15 to 5/13. And decide who will have the advantage.

XFL Week 9 vs. USFL Week 1

Saturday April 15th, 2023

  • XFL: Houston Roughnecks vs. Vegas Vipers, 12:30 p.m. ET/ABC
  • USFL: Philadelphia Stars vs. Memphis Showboats, 4:30 p.m. ET/FOX

The opening game of the USFL season on FOX won’t go head to head directly with the XFL’s early afternoon game on ABC. But that doesn’t mean the two over-the-air broadcasts won’t be compared. However, the end of the USFL 2023 opener will overlap with the XFL’s second Saturday game on ESPN2. (More on that in a moment).

It’s likely XFL’s Week 9 game on ABC between Houston and Vegas has very little at stake regarding playoff importance. With the Vipers out of the postseason mix and the Roughnecks likely having everything wrapped up in their division.

The USFL opener in Memphis will have more interest, and the Showboats should provide a quality showcase game for the league’s return with a decent number of fans in the stands. It’s a smart welcome back to our league strategy by the USFL’s brain trust.

Advantage: The USFL

Saturday April 15th, 2023

  • XFL: Orlando Guardians vs. San Antonio Brahmas, 7 p.m. ET/ESPN2
  • USFL: New Jersey Generals vs. Birmingham Stallions, 7:30 p.m. ET/FOX

The first head-to-head meeting and competition between both leagues for eyeballs. Kind of.

The XFL has had the second-highest-rated show on ESPN2, according to, since the league relaunched in February. But their Week 9 ESPN2 broadcast will not only encounter the tail end of the USFL’s opening game on FOX but will also face off with a primetime game on FOX.

The Brahmas and Guardians XFL game could have playoff importance for San Antonio, provided they are still in the mix by April 15th. But the telecast features two of the league’s weaker teams.

On the flip side, the USFL in primetime on FOX will be a coronation for the league’s 2022 champs, the Stallions, home in Birmingham versus last year’s 9-1 New Jersey Generals. It’s a sexy game that opened last year’s USFL season.

Advantage: The USFL

Sunday, April 16th, 2023

  • XFL: Arlington Renegades vs. D.C. Defenders, 12 noon ET/ESPN
  • USFL: Michigan Panthers vs. Houston Gamblers, 12 noon ET/NBC

Head to head from start to finish will be the 12-noon showdown between the XFL and USFL.

The XFL game on ESPN could have playoff ramifications. Although that remains to be seen. But it will certainly have a tremendous atmosphere in D.C., Something that has been a staple for the Defenders all season long, dating back to 2020 even.

The USFL counters with Michigan and Houston in Memphis. Venue availability is a factor in all these schedules. But having fans in Detroit for the Panthers on opening week would’ve been a plus.

This is a tough one to call. But you have to tip the scale in the favor of the league that is on over-the-air broadcast network television.

Advantage: The USFL

Sunday, April 16th, 2023

  • XFL: Seattle Sea Dragons vs. St. Louis Battlehawks, 3 p.m. ET/ESPN
  • USFL: Pittsburgh Maulers vs. New Orleans Breakers, 6:30 p.m. ET/FS1

The first six games this weekend, three for each league, will be, for better or worse, measured against each other. Regardless of context.

But the final game of Week 9 in the XFL and Week 1 in the USFL, although not head-to-head, could be the most telling.

It can be argued that the Dragons’ game on the road against the Battlehawks in Week 9 will be the biggest and most important regular-season contest of the entire XFL 2023 season. The game will likely decide which team goes to the playoffs to contend for a championship. The energy from the crowd in St. Louis should be super electric for a game of great consequence.

It’s a game worthy of big network exposure.

The USFL’s week one finale takes place after the Dragons-Battlehawks game has concluded. The New Orleans-Pittsburgh contest in Birmingham certainly won’t have the same feel. The Breakers’ opening game could draw some CFL fan interest with McLeod Bethel-Thompson involved. But it’s hard to quantify that interest in the states.

However, if, for whatever reason. The FS1 USFL game matches up or outdoes the XFL game on ESPN. It will be a sign that the returning league has more interest.

Advantage: The XFL

XFL Week 10 vs. USFL Week 2

Saturday, April 22nd, 2023

  • XFL: Orlando Guardians vs. St. Louis Battlehawks, 12 noon ET/ESPN
  • USFL: Houston Gamblers vs. New Orleans Breakers, 12:30 p.m. ET/USA

Despite being thirty minutes apart, This is a genuine head-to-head game between both leagues on cable television.

The final week of the XFL regular season could carry intrigue, depending on if playoff spots are still up for grabs. Or, the XFL could run into the same situation the USFL did last year in week ten, where they bottomed out in viewership because their games lacked any significance. The USFL’s final four regular-season games on FOX, FS1, and the USA Network averaged 337,750 viewers.

The USFL tried to artificially attach importance to Week 10 games, like the Maulers-Panthers bottom bowl game, with the winner being rewarded the first overall pick in next year’s draft. But it didn’t work out.

The Battlehawks’ last regular season game could be their final home outing until 2024.

The Gamblers and Breakers are two of five USFL teams that have no natural attachment to their cities. It’s the neutral site games, like this one in Alabama, despite free ticket giveaways, that typically take a hit in attendance and TV optics.

Week 2 of a new season could see the standard drop from the opening USFL week.

Advantage: The XFL

Saturday, April 22, 2023

  • XFL: D.C. Defenders vs. San Antonio Brahmas, 3 p.m. ET/ABC
  • USFL: Memphis Showboats vs. Birmingham Stallions, 7 p.m. ET/FOX

The two over-the-air network games on 4/22 between the XFL and USFL will certainly be measured against one another. Even though they don’t air at the same time. Primetime telecasts always draw better than afternoon games. Simply because more people are at home. It was a hundred percent reflected in viewership of the USFL’s primetime telecasts versus afternoon games last season.

The implications involved in the XFL’s afternoon game will determine the interest level. If both teams have nothing at stake. The game may not do very well. It’s a projection on my part. But I have to lean toward USFL here, based on the time slot and game importance.

Advantage: The USFL

Sunday, April 23, 2023

  • USFL: New Jersey Generals vs. Pittsburgh Maulers, 1 p.m. ET/NBC
  • XFL: Houston Roughnecks vs. Arlington Renegades, 3 p.m. ET/ESPN

Overlapping Sunday games on the slate for both leagues.

The Generals and Maulers play their home openers in their new hub site in Canton. The neutral site atmosphere in Ohio should be a good one for this 1 p.m. game on NBC.

The XFL’s Texas throwdown in Arlington, 3 eastern, 2 central, on ESPN is a to-be-determined contest. The Roughnecks and Renegades will play, but what will be at stake?

Advantage: The USFL

Sunday, April 23, 2023

  • USFL: Michigan Panthers vs. Philadelphia Stars, 7 p.m. ET/FS1
  • XFL: Vegas Vipers vs. Seattle Sea Dragons, 9 p.m. ET/ESPN2

The XFL regular-season finale is oddly situated on the schedule. But there have already been a few of these quirky time slots in the XFL 2023 season. The Dragons telecast could mean everything or nothing at all. It will either be a play-in game for Seattle or a play-out-the-string contest.

Late Sunday night games on the east coast are not great for viewership. The Panthers-Stars game in Canton has an earlier start. Without knowing what’s at stake in Seattle. This is an easy lean into the secondary cable versus cable battle.

Advantage: The USFL

XFL Playoffs vs. USFL Week 3

Saturday, April 29, 2023

  • USFL: New Orleans Breakers vs. Birmingham Stallions, 12:30 p.m. ET/USA
  • XFL: South Divisional Playoff Game, 7 p.m. ET/ESPN2
  • USFL: Memphis Showboats vs. Houston Gamblers, 7 p.m. ET/ (FOX)

The USFL and XFL are going to struggle to get any mainstream football fan interest in this particular week. Simply because the 2023 NFL draft will have all the attention from Thursday 4/27-Saturday 4/29.

Rounds four through seven of the NFL draft on Saturday, April 29, will air directly against the USFL’s 12:30 game on the USA network. The USFL has wisely scheduled that cable telecast to take the bullet rather than one of their big network games.

The last day of the NFL Draft will end long before the XFL’s first divisional playoff game happens. You have to wonder if the XFL playoffs will be advertised during the NFL draft. It would help because what could hinder the league is airing a playoff game on ESPN2 while going head-to-head with the USFL on FOX. Disney would be wise to flex the XFL’s playoff game to ESPN or ABC. But unless that happens, the XFL could take a hit here.

Advantage: The USFL

Sunday, April 30, 2023

  • USFL: Pittsburgh Maulers vs. Philadelphia Stars, 12 noon ET/NBC
  • XFL: North Divisional Playoff Game, 3 p.m. ET/ESPN
  • USFL: New Jersey Generals vs. Michigan Panthers, 4 p.m. ET/FOX

The XFL’s second playoff game is sandwiched between two USFL network airings. The XFL will have one hour unopposed from 3 to 4 but then will be directly competing with the USFL on FOX for two straight hours.

One of the things we will find out in this unique case study is how many separate USFL and XFL fans there really are. Is there a loyal group of fans that won’t watch either league? Because if there are alternative league fans, that will track both leagues. A playoff game definitely takes precedence over a standard regular-season game.

My feeling is that the USFL being on FOX, at the same time as an XFL playoff game on ESPN, will hinder the XFL’s viewership potential.

Advantage: The USFL

XFL Championship Game Bye, Weekend of May 6th

This is where things get tricky. After setting the stage for their championship game Saturday, May 13th, on ABC in San Antonio. The XFL is off the TV radar for a week while the USFL plays out Week 4 of its regular season schedule.

The strategy here by the XFL and Disney is a curious one. On one hand, the bye before the championship games makes sense. It gives the XFL’s two best remaining teams two weeks to get ready for their biggest game. A welcome respite after playing 11 straight weeks of games. It also affords fans time to travel to the big game.

However, from a competitor standpoint. The bye week gives the USFL a chance to lure in any XFL fans who haven’t been following their league as religiously. Any fringe fans, who have seen their XFL teams eliminated, will have a chance to sample the other product. The USFL can sell it as a “here’s what you have been missing weekend”.

XFL 2023 Championship vs. USFL Week 5

Saturday, May 13, 2023

  • USFL: Pittsburgh Maulers vs. Michigan Panthers, 12:30 p.m. ET/USA
  • USFL: Houston Gamblers vs. Birmingham Stallions, 4 p.m. ET/FOX
  • XFL Championship Game, 8 p.m. ET/ABC

If you love spring pro football and don’t care for family or friend activities on a Saturday in May. Then this day is for you.

The USFL has two-day games, one on cable and then on FOX late Saturday afternoon. By the time the XFL championship game arrives in primetime on ABC. Anyone who has watched the entire day’s action might be worn out.

Ultimately, this will be the most significant test and measuring stick in XFL 2023’s success. Can the league finish strongly on network television, the same way the USFL did last July?

Did the XFL retain enough interest for fans to want to see their season finale?

You have to think that a championship game on a major broadcast network will carry the most intrigue. If it doesn’t, it’s a good omen for the USFL and a bad one for the XFL.

Advantage: The XFL

Final Thoughts On The XFL-USFL War

Most casual observers and the majority of mainstream sports fans don’t believe in either of these leagues surviving. Many believe that one of these two entities will kill the other one-off or that the war will lead to both dying in the process.

The history books have not been kind to non-NFL pro football leagues in the United States. However, I do believe that it’s going to work this time. And in terms of the product and the quality of players that have been produced the last few years. It has worked.

The question is, can both leagues survive and then ultimately thrive? There will always be justifiable doubt toward the latter until it’s proven.

For now, though, there’s never been a better time to be a non-NFL pro football player in the United States. For however long this lasts, you have two leagues employing over 800 players, who are getting an opportunity to start, continue and advance their pro careers.

The entire football ecosystem wins.

Enjoy it while it lasts; hopefully, it lasts beyond 2023, 2024, and beyond.

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I am a pro football writer who has extensively covered and reported on multiple leagues over the years. I started covering the XFL back in 2001. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell



  1. Ken Granito

    April 3, 2023 at 8:15 pm

    God Mike, that was the mother of all articles. How long did that research and writing take you? Really good though and thought provoking. I personally have watched some XFL games and to be honest, I see a lot that is lacking. That stated you have to go back and remember, year 1 for people that are not in football by profession. My hope is that it will get better. First the officiating is terrible. So bad that it feels it’s directed. Dean Blandino seems to do a fairly good job of trying to keep it as real football, but when the opposing team challenges a false start on offense, they win the challenge and worse yet is the first penalty called on Seatle and it’s in the 4th quarter, meanwhile they let offensive pass interference go when a novice would have realized it is a penalty. think a pick play where they defensive player reads the pass to the flank and while attempting to make a play on the receiver is actually blocked to the ground and there is no call. The more experienced XFL coaches must be literally (not figuratively) biting their tongues not to say something. The problem is that if noone tells the emperor ( from The Emperor’s New Clothes) he is not wearing any clothes how does it get better. I think it seems that the referees are SO bad, that it is hard to believe it isn’t purposefully done. That would seem about right with some of the trades going on. All I can say is that I hope the XFL can learn from it’s mistakes. They clearly have buy in from the players. Let’s hope this is just growing pains. The USFL is about to kickoff its season 2. Let’s hope it’s a good season ahead. PS I really like the opportunity to have both leagues and even expand the leagues. Football is a great game. With having the two leagues, you will have that many more possible players and coaching opportunities. I hope both leagues stay alive and keep salaries comparable leaving an opportunity for both leagues to continue forward.

  2. Bill Tomassini

    April 24, 2023 at 7:04 am

    The XFL is better than the USFL. But I think the only way these two leagues can survive is to merge.

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