The USFL has accomplished what the last two attempts at spring football have failed to do – have a successful first season.
As the league prepares for Sunday night’s championship game between the Birmingham Stallions and the Philadelphia Stars at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where does it go from here is the bigger question.
Fox Sports President Eric Shanks announced earlier this week that the USFL will return next season.
Ratings were steady, with games amassing an average of 1.034 million viewers on Fox and NBC. The overall average is lower (715,000) when games on USA Network and FS1 are included.
While those ratings are slightly higher than the 2019 American Football Alliance, which ceased operations after eight weeks, they are behind the 2020 XFL viewership average of 1.9 million. The XFL went out of business midway through its season, primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we’ve said quite regularly that the number one objective for this season is to establish that we can have an audience at the same level as other sports that have been part of the spring calendar for a long time (Formula 1, Major League Football, English Premier League) I think we more than held on,” said Fox Sports executive vice-chairman Michael Mulvihill.
The league took a big step towards financial stability by playing all of its regular season games in Birmingham. League officials said 17,500 fans attended the first game on April 16 between the Stallions and the New Jersey Generals, but did not release numbers for the other 39 games, which appeared to be played in a stadium. almost empty.
Plans for next year include the same eight teams, but they will play matches in at least two cities or as many as four.
The league was able to adapt to concerns throughout the season. The sensor inside the soccer ball for tracking was changed after feedback from quarterbacks and kickers on how it affected them. The league also expanded rosters due to injury concerns late in the year.
USFL games lasted an average of 2 hours and 58 minutes, which is 14 minutes longer than an NFL game. While league officials were happy with the pace of the game, they would like to see more plays and more 2- and 3-point conversion attempts.
The USFL averaged 158 plays per game, 20 less than the NFL. Even though teams could attempt a 3-point conversion from the 10-yard line after touchdowns, it only happened five times during the regular season with a successful conversion.
The USFL has a working relationship with the NFL but does not want to be seen as its developmental league. But it’s not a challenge for the NFL either, which puts it in a strange middle ground.
The 2023 season is scheduled to start in mid-April so the USFL doesn’t have to face the NCAA basketball tournament and the Masters. The XFL is planning a return next season with a scheduled start on February 18, the week after the Super Bowl.
But the main focus of the weekend will be on Sunday. The Stars (6-4 in the regular season) upset the Generals 9-1 19-14 in last weekend’s semifinals. The Stallions (9-1) advanced with a 31-17 victory over the New Orleans Breakers (6-4).
Philadelphia is led by receiver/returner Maurice Alexander, who led the league in kick returns. Meanwhile, Birmingham linebacker DeMarquis Gates had 10 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks. The Stallions won the first encounter 30-17 on May 15.
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