The USFL versus The XFL in 2023? It’s headed that way, however, when it comes to alternate pro football leagues over the years. We have learned that you should never put the cart before the horse. After all, many have seen how this movie ends several times over.
These proposed leagues either fail to launch or are taken down by ineptitude or circumstances beyond their control. So there’s no guarantee that two pro football leagues, the XFL and USFL, will be around playing games at the same time in 2023. But they might, and once upon a time, in a galaxy not too far away, it almost happened.
The XFL Versus The AAF In 2020
In 2019, the Alliance of American Football raced out to get in front of the XFL before the league could get on the field in 2020. The AAF, to its own detriment, rushed its league to corner the marketplace. The Alliance snapped up coaches, markets, networks, and players, all in an effort to one-up the XFL.
The AAF’s mad dash into the space forced the XFL to shift their plans. Precisely when it came to selecting markets. Places like San Diego and Orlando were strongly considered before the Alliance jumped ahead of the XFL to secure those cities. Ironically, it was St. Louis, a market that the AAF couldn’t lock down in time for 2019, that ended up being the XFL’s most successful team location.
The line in the sand was drawn between the AAF and XFL.
The ‘we got here first, you are too late element’ was a genuine concern for the latter, in a landscape where barely one league had a chance of making a failed concept work. Now we were headed towards two entities trying to accomplish the impossible while going head to head.
As a result, in theory, the two leagues were earmarked for a head-to-head showdown in the Spring of 2020. The AAF on CBS, TNT, and the NFL Network versus the XFL on FOX, ESPN, and ABC.
As we all know by now, the February showdown of Spring Pro Football leagues never happened.
Before we could get to both the XFL and AAF competing against each other for viewership, players, and personnel. The AAF’s ownership and financing fell apart. Reggie Fowler bailed on the league before the season started. Tom Dundon came on as a potential savior, saw the flawed books and infrastructure of the Alliance, and headed for the hills.
The AAF’s unfortunate demise was seen by many as a godsend for the XFL. The pro football landscape was going to be the XFL’s for the taking. Although the public saw yet another spring league fail, the appetite for the concept had been sparked by the AAF. Could the XFL capitalize on what the Alliance failed upon?
The XFL did very well for a first-year league, generating positive reviews, producing quality football and acceptable business numbers. But unfortunately, the XFL in 2020 met a similar fate as the AAF, just under bizarre real-world circumstances.
Fast forward to the present, and now, there are two prominent pro football leagues on the horizon. Both with solid backing, at least on paper. How will they coincide? Can they both exist in the same space?
The USFL’s Official Arrival
Last Wednesday, the USFL finally stuck its head out of hiding. The mainstream sports media is still catching up. But for those who have taken an interest in these leagues. It’s been no secret that the USFL would be playing in a Hub setting in Birmingham, with eight teams playing games in that city from April to June.
The cat’s out of the bag now. But the most significant realization is that FOX Sports has wholly taken over the entity.
The birth of the current USFL all started with the XFL and Brian Woods Spring League working together back in 2019. Fox’s introduction and reinvigoration in the concept of a pro football league during the NFL offseason started with their introduction to TSL and their collaboration with the XFL.
The Spring League, Brian Woods’s creation, which aired games on FOX’s networks the last couple of years, has faded away into the shadows. FOX initially came on as a minority owner, but off the heels of what the XFL did on FOX and the meager numbers, TSL did this past Spring. FOX Sports, led by CEO/Exec Producer Eric Shanks, has decided to take the plunge headfirst.
Brian Woods remains as President of Football Ops for the USFL. But make no mistake, the USFL is FOX’s baby now. USFL Chairman Eric Shanks has brought on Daryl ‘Moose’ Johnston, a former AAF and XFL Exec, to be EVP of Football Ops. Mike Pereira will head officiating. Edward Hartman will be EVP of Business Ops for the league.
It’s expected that Joel Klatt and Brock Huard will be a part of the USFL as well. Some of the rumored names for head coaching positions in the United States Football League are former Houston Roughnecks head coach June Jones, Steve Spurrier, Hal Mumme, and Jerry Glanville.
The USFL Attempting To Capitalize On The XFL’s Absence
This is a question that was raised in an article here at XFLNewshub very early this year. Quite frankly, it’s the goal of FOX. Much like the AAF attempted to, the USFL saw the viability of what the XFL produced in 2020. And not only did they want in again, but they wanted to take complete control. By cutting out the middle man.
It’s what Brian Woods and TSL afforded to FOX that the current leadership of the XFL wouldn’t. An opportunity for a major sports network to own and operate its own league.
The USFL has a chance, if run correctly, to pose a more significant threat to the XFL than the AAF did. Simply because the Alliance was paying to be on their networks, their house was made out of straw. The USFL is run by a robust network in the sports industry. FOX’s house is one of the strongest on the planet.
The bottom line, with all these entities, is How all in are you really? Because as anyone who knows, who has followed this closely. It takes a lot of patience and serious financing to operate a pro football league.
As chronicled at this site many months ago, the goal of the USFL is to avoid the financial burdens that have brought down these types of leagues in the past.
The USFL is playing in a hub setting in 2022 for three main reasons. Firstly, to cut down costs. Secondly, to buy the league time because it’s not ready to go into individual markets yet. And lastly and most importantly, to showcase the league so that the USFL can get owners and sponsors to buy into their teams.
FOX is earmarked to spend anywhere in the neighborhood of 100-150 million in the first few years. But the hope for them is that the league will pay for itself eventually. That’s the end game.
Quite frankly, it’s a strategy that can work if FOX is willing to pay their players and coaches respectable salaries and if they are prepared to take losses. Having a willing partner in the city of Birmingham to help offset costs helps. And there’s no denying that football players will see FOX as a great showcase if marketed and promoted correctly. But actions will speak louder than words. False promises are something that the public and the football community experienced firsthand with the AAF, who sold the world a bill of goods and then failed to deliver.
The XFL Versus The USFL
Where does the XFL stand in all of this? With the USFL directly standing in their path?
Well, the XFL run by RedBird Capital Partners, Dany Garcia, and Dwayne Johnson has grand plans of their own. They have set up their own executive team for the league. And the knowledge is that they are planning on making big announcements on the league’s direction, with 2022 serving as a rampway towards 2023. You can read about some of those plans here.
The XFL plans on being in specific markets in 2023. Some of the same from 2020, but with subtle changes. The USFL could decide to avoid XFL markets or go to war directly by diving into the same cities the XFL inhabited a year ago. A declaration of war but potentially a business strategy that could backfire.
- Update: On Monday, 11/22, the USFL officially released its eight inaugural teams for their 2022 season. These teams will all play in Birmingham in 2022, but will presumably be in their respective markets by 2023. Three of the teams, the Tampa Bay Bandits, Houston Gamblers and the New Jersey Generals will presumably set up shop in 2020 XFL markets. That’s provided that the XFL ends up back in Tampa, Houston and the tri-state area in 2023.
For now, the USFL has a timetable for playing their games from mid-April to mid-June. The XFL could kick off a week after the Superbowl in 2023. Late February till perhaps late April. So it’s possible that the two seasons might not clash head to head for at least the majority of them, with the XFL season ending when the USFL’s seasons get started.
However, competing for players, coaches, and media attention could be a tall task for the USFL if FOX doesn’t bring their lofty finances with them to spend.
Once upon a time, the AAF was offering their players multi-year contracts to try and prevent them from jumping ship to the XFL. It would have created an interesting battle in the courts if players desired to play for the XFL instead, but that potential legal crisis was averted when the AAF was no more.
The USFL could try to take the same tact with their coaches and players. At the end of the day, the league that pays more will get the best available players and coaches. If the checks bounce, the employees will too.
No More Sweatshop Football
The Spring League got away with murder by not only having players play for free but having some pay fees to put their bodies on the line playing multiple games. That kind of malpractice will not fly under the FOX banner, and it shouldn’t.
According to sources involved in TSL, some of the players who were promised financial compensation for competing in TSL have still not received payment since the Spring. Even a coach or two had to wait an extended period of time to receive a paycheck.
No one noticed or hardly paid attention to TSL on FOX this Spring; if they did, perhaps, they would have noticed FOX having a glorified sweatshop league on network television. FOX is running their own Pro League right now as the sole owner; they can’t afford to be low-rent from here on out in how their players and employees are treated.
My late great colleague, Josh Davis, was always a defender and sympathizer for the Spring League. Fans, especially players, are so desperate for the existence of a non-NFL league that they are willing to take crap and be treated poorly, just for the opportunity to keep their professional dreams alive.
In 2021, FOX’s involvement with TSL was a low-risk, low-cost proposition for them. Cheap programming with very little to no payroll.
The USFL can’t resemble TSL if it truly “wants to take over the spring”. They are going to need to bring their best if they want to survive in the same landscape as the XFL.
In 2023, there’s a real chance that two pro football leagues will exist in the XFL and USFL. And it will certainly help football players and coaches continue their journeys. By, creating potentially a thousand jobs. For that reason, it can be a great benefit. No matter how long it lasts. Opportunities should be aplenty with 16 or more teams in the United States.
Questions abound and remain. Will the USFL be legitimate? Can the XFL top or match what they did in 2020? Those answers are coming, presumably in 2023. We will count those chickens only when they hatch.
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