In the wake of the highly discussed XFL-USFL merger talks, one question that’s been on the minds of fans and analysts alike is: Who will be the broadcast partners for the new league?
Moving to Free TV
One of the most significant developments sources are telling us is that all games will be broadcast over the air on network television, specifically ABC, Fox, and NBC. The aim here is straightforward: get as many eyes on the product as possible by making it freely accessible. Replays will follow suit, but with a twist — they will be exclusively available on streaming platforms.
ESPN: Out of the Game?
One of the most telling indicators of future partnerships—or lack thereof—is the source that broke the news of the XFL-USFL merger. The story wasn’t leaked or announced by ESPN; rather, it was Axios that took the lead. Axios is owned by Cox Communications, the third-largest cable company in the U.S., sparking questions about whether there might be a new broadcasting relationship on the horizon.
Previously, XFL games were accessible via ESPN+, a paid streaming service. This arrangement required fans to subscribe to catch the live action or replays. However, in a strategic shift that could signal ESPN’s dwindling role, these games are now moving to YouTube where they can be watched for free. Don’t believe us, go to ESPN Plus and type in XFL in the search.
But what does this mean for ESPN’s involvement with the merged league? The situation becomes more nuanced when you consider the ongoing sports battle between ESPN and Fox Sports. ESPN has been the go-to platform for numerous sports events, but with Fox looking to expand its influence in the sports world—especially given Lachlan Murdoch’s long-term vision for the USFL—the room for ESPN in this new landscape looks increasingly constricted.
With the seeming marginalization of ESPN, get ready for more coverage from Fox Sports personalities like Colin Cowherd, as opposed to ESPN-affiliated commentators such as Pat McAfee. Cowherd, who has been a advocate of spring football, is likely to be one of the main voices discussing this new league. When he can take a break from talking about Aaron Rodgers and Lebron James.
What About FS1?
Another channel notably absent from the conversation is FS1. Rumors suggest that FS1 could be sold off, given that Disney is contemplating unloading ABC and other television assets. Nevertheless, XFL maintains a standing agreement with Disney.
Legal and Contractual Steps
The framework for the new league is well laid out and sources tell us done at this point. There are contractual complexities to navigate, not to mention the legal clearances required. These include approvals from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Fox’s Corporate Moves
What necessitates all these legal maneuvers? Well, Fox is a publicly traded company. Additionally, with the stepping down of Rupert Murdoch from Fox and his son Lachlan Murdoch taking over, the broadcasting landscape could undergo significant changes. Lachlan has been a strong supporter of the USFL since its inception, viewing it as a long-term venture for Fox.
As the pieces fall into place, including contracts and union negotiations, this is undoubtedly a fluid situation that we will continue to monitor closely.
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