Fringe Spring Football Leagues Unite! XFL and USFL Announce Merger

What do you call a fan who paints her face for a league that's been merged out of existence? A clown. (Image credit: Getty Images)

The decades-long, stop-start quest to establish an alternative pro football league positioned in the early spring took another turn Thursday, with the USFL and XFL declaring their merger. 

"Subject to customary regulatory approvals and if the transaction is consummated, the new league will establish best-in-class operations based on the most recent seasons of both leagues," a joint statement from the two leagues reads. "This historic combination will anchor professional spring football with substantial capabilities and resources to ensure future growth and continue to enhance the development of the collective players, coaches, and staff that are coming together.

Little else is known about the combined league at this point. What will it be called? What teams out of each eight-team league will be included? Will some teams be merged? Or eighty-sixed altogether?

“More details regarding the new league will be announced at a later date," the statement added. 

The objective for both start-up pro football leagues, on paper, isn't a bad one -- with live NFL games being the most reliable generators of mass audience for both linear and streaming video, why not try to create an alternative brand. 

The execution has always been fraught.

Fox Sports reanimated the failed 1980s era United States Football League brand in 2022. (We included the trailer for ESPN's insightful "30 for 30" documentary Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL here in case you missed that spectacle. Next TV was actually at Los Angeles' Pierce College, seating capacity about 8,000, to watch the USFL's L.A. Express and quarterback Steve Young play their last sad game in 1985.)

The relaunched USFL's 2023 championship game featuring the Birmingham Stallions beating the Pittsburgh Maulers 28-12 on July 1, captured an audience of 1.2 million viewers on NBC. That was down 20% from 2022's inaugural USFL championship game, but this year's title game did occur over what was the de facto Fourth of July weekend, with plenty of folks on the road and not watching football.

Perhaps more foreboding for the league and its broadcasters, Fox and NBC, the overall average USFL audience was down 16% from the 601,000 the league averaged in 2022.

The XFL fared a little better.

Resuscitated last spring for a third time after the XFL brand's founder, WWE mogul Vince McMahon, whiffed twice on establishing it over a span of 20 years, the league is now s controlled by Redbird Capital, along with Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia. (We also included the trailer for another "30 for 30" doc on the original 2000 XFL launch below.)

XFL games were shown on Disney platforms last season.

The XFL's 10-game regular-season schedule averaged 622,000 viewers last ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, FX, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes, with its championship game averaging 1.5 million viewers.

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!