The Fox-backed USFL has landed another broadcast partner in advance of its spring 2022 relaunch, as NBC Sports has signed a deal to carry 21 of the league’s Saturday and Sunday games. The inaugural package will include 17 linear TV games, including eight airings on the flagship NBC broadcast network and nine outings on the revamped USA Network.
The four remaining matchups will stream on Peacock.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although insiders close to the action say NBC has committed to a three-year pact with the USFL. Unlike previous spring-football startups that made their way to the airwaves via time-buys (the AAF) and production/ad-revenue swaps (the XFL version 2.0), the revived USFL is said to have secured a rights fee from NBC, although the agreed-upon fee remains under wraps.
A source with inside knowledge of the deal characterized the dollar figure as “significant.”
In addition to the NBC Sports schedule, the USFL will have the luxury of 12 Fox broadcasts and another 10 appearances on the cable network FS1, which reaches 74 million U.S. households. All told, 20 USFL games will air on network TV this season, which is on par with what the XFL had planned before the pandemic scuttled its Lazarus act in early 2020. Per Nielsen, the 12 XFL games that aired on ABC and Fox that winter averaged 2.27 million viewers.
While the first wave of communications from the USFL characterized Fox as a minority stakeholder in the venture, the league is now wholly controlled by the media conglomerate. Fox owns the USFL outright, under the aegis of the recently formed USFL HoldCo. As such, the USFL is teeming with Fox higher-ups: Fox Sports CEO and executive producer Eric Shanks will serve as the league’s chairman, while NFL analyst Daryl Johnston will suit up as executive VP of football operations, and rules expert Mike Pereira is to pull double duty as head of officiating.
NBC is buying into the USFL concept on the eve of its first spring in 16 years without having a slate of live NHL action in the hopper. If the new-look USFL can sidestep the sort of audience turnover that hampered the XFL in its waning days—by Week 5, the league’s broadcast deliveries had slumped to 1.53 million viewers per game, a decline of 54% versus its opening doubleheader—the subsequent ad dollars could well evolve into a solid ancillary revenue stream.
The USFL is set to debut in April, one week after the Masters wraps on CBS. The first season will run through the middle of June, with all 43 games scheduled to be played at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Ala.
Arguably the most viable alternative to the NFL since the American Football League shook up the status quo in the 1960s, the original (1983-1985) USFL featured future Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Reggie White and Steve Young, as well as Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie. Two years into the league’s short run, the 37-year-old New York real estate tycoon Donald J. Trump snapped up the New Jersey Generals franchise and almost immediately began kvetching about the league’s spring schedule.
Real football is played in the fall, the future president said, because, “If God had wanted football in the spring, he wouldn’t have invented baseball.” Trump browbeat the USFL’s 13 other owners into agreeing to shift its 1986 games to compete directly with the NFL; it was his opinion that such a move would force a merger with Pete Rozelle’s dominant operation. This gambit set into motion a $1.7 billion antitrust lawsuit that netted the upstart league a grand total of $3.76, including interest. The USFL never played a single fall football game.