The spring football wars are on, and in full effect. The XFL and USFL went head to head for the first time, and the TV Ratings have plenty of people going back and forth on what they deem as “good”, and what they deem as “bad”.
Unfortunately, there’s a large group of folks who have a clear bias towards one league or the other, which skews their vision of what the truth looks like. Both the XFL and the USFL performed respectively well this weekend from a TV ratings perspective, so let’s break it all down.
Memphis Showboats vs. Philadelphia Stars (FOX): 837,000
Birmingham Stallions vs. New Jersey Generals (FOX): 864,000
Houston Gamblers vs. Michigan Panthers (NBC): 974,000
New Orleans Breakers vs. Pittsburgh Maulers (FS1): 483,000
None of the USFL games cracked 1M viewers this weekend. At first glance, one may assume that’s not ideal. The XFL, in fact, had two games hit over 1 million in week one this year.
However, one has to take into account that only so many people are going to watch spring football. With the XFL playing games at the exact same time the dropoff makes sense. Before going into detail, let’s take a look at how the XFL fared.
Across the board, these ratings are a solid look for the XFL. The only number that isn’t ideal is ESPN2, with only 235k watching that game. When you take into consideration the fact that this specific game went head to head with Birmingham’s opener (and featured two of the XFL’s worst teams), the poor showing makes a bit more sense.
Who Won The Weekend?
Too many media pundits are going to twist these numbers to fit their own agendas. When you take a step back and look at both numbers through a non-bias lens, it’s clear to see that each league performed well in their own regard.
This weekend, we saw two spring football leagues go head to head for the first time ever. The total TV ratings: #USFL: 3.15M #XFL2023: 2.35M
The XFL had one game on ABC, two on ESPN, and one on ESPN2. The USFL had two on FOX, one on NBC, and one on FS1.
For example, let’s start with the USFL. The league is in its second season, which means it doesn’t have the “excitement” factor of being a brand new entity – like the XFL was this year. The USFL already saw the ratings drop-off in season one, and now has stabilized at a reasonable rate.
While the numbers out of the gate aren’t as dazzling as they were in 2022, it simply means that the USFL’s core base of fans has returned – and the door is open for the ratings to grow as spring football fans trickle back from the XFL.
FOX and NBC have been pushing and marketing the league quite well, but there’s only so many people who are going to tune into spring football. Once the XFL season finishes, it’s not far-fetched to expect games on FOX/NBC to see higher numbers down the stretch.
Kicking off the @USFL’s historic second season from Memphis and Birmingham, the USFL scored strong Week 1 viewership across FOX, NBC and FS1 – a +4% increase over Season 1 📈 pic.twitter.com/czhbi3GSko
For the USFL to maintain similar numbers to what we saw in last year’s playoffs is an encouraging sign. It means that they are building a loyal base of followers in each market, and that demographic will only grow as they continue to expand into new cities.
The FS1 number is promising as well. It’s very similar to the cable numbers we’ve seen from the XFL on FX and ESPN2. If they can keep the ship steady on cable, it adds more depth and legitimacy to the USFL as a professional league that will last.
XFL: Staying Consistent
Something the XFL has done the last couple of weeks is showcase their consistent viewership. While games on ABC and ESPN aren’t even close to what they were in 2020, the numbers have stabilized – and, in some cases, they’ve gone up.
At the same time, the XFL’s competition this weekend was stiff. The NBA playoffs kicked off, with games all throughout Saturday and Sunday. Of course, they went head to head with the USFL as well. While the USFL out-dueled them in each matchup going on at the same time, the XFL held their own.
We’ve accepted the fact that the XFL is no longer what it was in 2020. It’s foolish to assume that would even be the case. The broadcasting landscape has changed drastically, as the XFL is now only partnered with Disney networks. In addition, they utilize ESPN+ as a streaming service for every game.
The Bottom Line
While the USFL out-gained the XFL by 800,000 viewers this weekend, it was expected. The USFL clearly has a stronger TV deal in place, with their sound infrastructure on FOX and NBC.
One of the XFL’s toughest assignments has been generating viewers on ESPN broadcasts. ESPN, while being a cable channel, is one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to sports. As the XFL season comes to a close, an emphasis has to be put on increasing viewership to ESPN.
ABC’s number sitting at under one million matches up well side-by-side with the USFL’s FOX & NBC performances. Clearly, games on OTA networks can reach over 1M viewers, when the competition isn’t split between two football entities. Sunday’s noon slot on NBC/ESPN had a combined 1.64 million people tuned in, with the USFL’s game garnering 974k.
Good enough start to USFL season 2. This comparison is going to be a demonstration of the value of broadcast windows and live sports lead-ins as the season goes on. https://t.co/KD0YOj9QPw
Seeing the USFL’s numbers is a tell-tale sign of what it means to get to a second season. Of course, week one in 2022 was much higher, because the casual viewer was curious as to what the USFL was. Now, the league is simply drawing in fans who established themselves as such the year prior.
If either league can convince casual sports enthusiasts to tune in more frequently to their games, that’s where the real progress will be made. With the USFL being prioritized by both FOX and NBC networks this season, they have an opportunity to capitalize on that demographic.
At the end of the day, both leagues should be pleased with the numbers seen this weekend. TV Ratings can be skewed in many different directions. For the USFL, their goal should simply be to maintain these numbers. If they can generate ratings similar to week one – and possibly even increase them as the season continues, they will be setting themselves up for long-term success.
On the other hand, the XFL will have to hope they can finish their season strong. With more games on primetime networks such as ABC (including the Championship), we should see improved ratings on that end as the postseason hits.
Whether you’re a fan of the XFL, USFL, or both – let’s not take spring football for granted. Over 5.5 million people tuned in to watch this sport over the weekend, which is fantastic to see.
What are your thoughts on these USFL & XFL TV Ratings? Which league do you think has the advantage? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!