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USFL TV ratings: USFL championship draws massive crowd, 2023 return

USFL TV ratings, USFL ratings
Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Football League launched its inaugural season in 2022, partnering with Fox and NBC to broadcast spring football. It’s another effort to tap into the market for football during the NFL’s downtime. The latest USFL TV ratings will provide a look at how the league is faring.

Plenty of things are being done in an effort to make spring football more entertaining. the USFL is using drones and helmet cameras to provide unique camera angles for viewers. Additionally, the league includes live audio from coaches’ communications and there are a few relatively known players and coaches in the USFL.

Related: USFL games today, TV schedule

The 2022 UFL season comes two years after the XFL ceased operations midway through its first season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that, the Alliance of American Football lasted for a few weeks in 2019 before it folded and went bankrupt.

Bookmark this page for weekly updates on the USFL TV ratings and how its viewership compared to XFL TV ratings and AAF ratings.

USFL Championship game ratings

Syndication: Canton Repository
Kevin Whitlock / Massillon Independent / USA TODAY NETWORK

The inaugural USFL Championship Game drew a matchup between the Birmingham Stallions and the Philadelphia Stars. Fittingly for a matchup between the best teams in the USFL, it came down to the final minutes. Broadcasted on Fox, it seems plenty of fans tuned in for the finale.

According to TV Series Finale, the USFL championship game averaged 1.25 million viewers with a 0.1 rating. Also noteworthy, Fox’s “United by Football: A Season in the USFL” averaged 720,000 viewers, a rather impressive market considering the context of the broadcast.

Clearing 1.2 million viewers is a strong close for the USFL ratings in 2022. With both networks and league executives bought in for a 2023 return, we’ll get to see how the USFL fares when competing directly against the XFL.

USFL announces 2023 return, TV ratings spike

Syndication: Canton Repository
Kevin Whitlock / Massillon Independent / USA TODAY NETWORK

Days after the USFL TV ratings dropped to their lowest point of the 2022 season, Fox provided fans with reasons to celebrate. During an interview with the New York Post, Fox Sports executive vice president said the network was very pleased with the interest in spring football and touted the season-wide viewership totals.

“In terms of quality of play and watchability, the league has exceeded expectations, in my opinion. Points per game, length of game and margin of victory are all in line with what fans expect from professional football. Most of our games are one-possession games. That’s helped us deliver the viewership we need to be successful.”

Fox Sports EVP Michael Mulvihill on the first USFL season, TV ratings

He noted that USFL regular-season games regularly averaged more viewers than either the NHL or Premier League. The league also touted that it averaged just over 1 million viewers for its national games on Fox and NBC. It was also reported last week that the USFL is returning for the 2023 season.

As for the inaugural USFL playoffs, viewership ticked up. According to TV Series Finale, NBC averaged 900,000 viewers for its Saturday broadcast.

We’ll provide an update for the USFL TV ratings from the championship game on Sunday.

Final week of USFL regular season brings grim USFL TV ratings

USFL: Houston Gamblers vs New Orleans Breakers
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

When previewing the outlook for the USFL television audience in Week 10, we mentioned how each of the playoff spots being locked up would hurt viewership. It is also likely a factor that the league weighed in advance before putting two games on USA Network and one matchup on Fox Sports 1. As expected and much to the dismay of USFL officials, the ratings took a hit.

  • Saturday afternoon (USA) – New Jersey Generals vs Philadelphia Stars – 290,000 avg. viewers
  • Saturday evening (FOX) – Birmingham Stallions vs Tampa Bay Bandits – 649,000 avg. viewers
  • Sunday noon (USA) – Michigan Panthers vs Pittsburgh Maulers – 282,000 avg. viewers
  • Sunday evening (FS1) – New Orleans Breakers vs Houston Gamblers – 181,000 avg. viewers

We’ll start from the top. USA’s Saturday coverage of the USFL represented another dip in viewership, slipping from 350,000 la Saturday prior to 290,000 in Week 10. It’s certainly not the least-watched USFL game on the network, but it’s still not what the league wants to see.

Things weren’t much better for Fox’s broadcast. A pull of 649,000 avg. viewers is one of the network’s smallest this season. It certainly didn’t help that Birmingham’s pursuit of a perfect season was already over, but it shows how quickly fans can lose interest.

The biggest concern is the Sunday evening game. The Breakers vs Gamblers matchup drew the lowest USFL TV ratings this year. That’s a red flag considering it’s the last thing we’ll see before the playoffs. This is not the direction the league wants to be headed before the XFL launches next year.

Week 9 brings turnaround for USFL viewership

USFL: Houston Gamblers vs New Orleans Breakers
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

A week after the USFL ratings took a dive in Week 8, things bounced a bit upwards for the league. It comes at an important time with Week 9 representing the penultimate slate in the regular season schedule before the first USFL playoffs.

The league and its broadcasting partners need fan support now more than ever, the test becomes what happens when some teams have already locked up playoff spots and might have less incentive against eliminated teams. Fortunately, there are some positive signs in the USFL ratings this past weekend.

USFL TV Ratings in Week 9

  • Sat. afternoon (NBC) – New Jersey Generals vs Michigan Panthers – 815,000 avg. viewers
  • Sat. evening (USA) – Birmingham Stallions vs Houston Gamblers – 350,000 avg. viewers
  • Sun. afternoon (Fox) – New Orleans Breakers vs Tampa Bay Bandits – 742,000 avg. viewers
  • Sun. evening (FS1) – Pittsburgh Maulers vs Philadelphia Stars – 389,000 viewers

Starting with NBC’s broadcast, it’s a slight tick upwards from the 785,000 viewers who tuned in for a Week 6 matchup on the network in Week 6. It’s a small bump, but an additional 30,000 viewers aren’t insignificant for the USFL.

For USA Network, which pulls in the lowest USFL ratings each week, the audience size is a positive. In Week 8, USA only pulled 208,000 avg. viewers for the Generals vs Maulers clash. Before that, 228,000 avg. viewers for the network’s Week 7 broadcast.

After pulling in 625,000 and 773,000 avg viewers for its two games in Week 8, Fox split the difference this past Sunday for the Breakers vs Bandits game. Considering it locked up the final playoff spot, it will be interesting to see how many fans tune in for less meaningful action in Week 10.

USFL TV ratings – Week 8

USFL: Houston Gamblers vs New Orleans Breakers
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

As we await data from Fox to come in, with the typical caveat that Peacock doesn’t provide its ratings, here is the audience size the USFL saw to begin Week 8 with its game between the New Jersey Generals vs Pittsburgh Maulers on Friday, June 3.

  • Friday evening (USA) – New Jersey Generals vs Pittsburgh Maulers – 208,000 avg. viewers

The 208,000 avg. audience size and 0.03 rating on USA Network represent a dip from the viewership the network experienced from its Saturday afternoon broadcast in Week 7. It’s also down from the 250,000 audience size USA drew in A week 5 matchup between the Michigan Panthers vs Tampa Bay Bandits.

Here are the rest of the Week 8 television ratings for the USFL.

  • Sat. afternoon (Fox) – Birmingham Stallions vs New Orleans Breakers – 625,000 avg. viewers
  • Sun. afternoon (Fox) – Philadelphia Stars vs Michigan Panthers – 773,000 avg. viewers

Just like with the Friday game, the USFL and its TV partners lost viewers this week. Comparing the FOx broadcasts from each of the past two Sundays, the network lost approximately 60,000 viewers. As for Fox’s Saturday broadcast, it’s Week 8 matchup drew 100,000 fewer watchers compared to a Week 5 broadcast.

All of this comes before the inaugural USFL playoffs, set to be held in Canton, Ohio. Declining TV ratings are obviously a concerning trend right before the biggest games on the USFL schedule. The league can only hope viewership ticks back towards 1 million, which it last saw for an NBC broadcast in Week 6.

USA Network, Fox Sports 1 receive shaky support

USFL: Houston Gamblers vs New Orleans Breakers
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

A week after the USFL ratings spiked with major broadcasting partners airing the Week 6 games, things took a negative turn in Week 7. With matchups flipping back to secondary channels, USA Network and Fox Sports 1, viewership dipped significantly compared to last week.

The lone game on FOX did reasonably well, averaging more than 800,000 viewers on a Sunday with major racing events and the Memorial Day weekend festivities. As always, Peacock does not provide its ratings for the games.

  • Saturday afternoon (USA) – New Jersey Generals vs Tampa Bay Bandits – 228,000 avg. viewers
  • Saturday evening (FS1) New Orleans Breakers vs Michigan Panthers – 267,000 avg. viewers
  • Sunday afternoon (FOX) – Birmingham Stallions vs Pittsburgh Maulers – 830,000 ag. viewers

In a week-by-week comparison, Fox Sports 1 lost approximately 14,000 viewers from Week 6 to Week 6. Going back further, USA Network saw about 20K fewer people tuning in for its game on Saturday. The small dip in audience size could be contributed to sports fans spending their three-day weekend outside. However, the viewership number still aren’t outstanding for the USFL in their lone season before facing competition from the XFL.

USFL TV ratings rise in Week 6

USFL: Tampa Bay Bandits vs Birmingham Stallions
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

A week after the USFL saw its ratings and audience size dip, things rebounded nicely in Week 6. As the 2022 season rolls on, the league is doing a relatively nice job holding a sizable audience for its inaugural season despite not having extensive media coverage.

  • Saturday (NBC) – Tampa Bay Bandits vs Philadelphia Stars – 785,000 avg. viewers
  • Saturday (NBC) – Birmingham Stallions vs Michigan Panthers – 1.196 million avg. viewers
  • Sunday (Fox Sports 1) – Pittsburgh Maulers vs New Orleans Breakers – 281,000 avg. viewers
  • Sunday (Fox) – New Jersey Generals vs Houston Gamblers – 665,000 avg. viewers

The viewership marks are improvements for NBX and Fox compared to Week 6. While the total numbers aren’t as high as the Week 1 opener, league officials and TV partners always expected some drop-off. While the week-to-week fluctuation in ratings isn’t ideal, the ratings are good enough right now. As of late May, the USFL planned on having a 2023 season.

USFL Week 5 delivers massive drop in TV ratings

USFL: Tampa Bay Bandits vs Birmingham Stallions
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

After experiencing some positive growth with the ratings and average viewing audience in Week 4, USFL Week 5 delivered some troubling numbers. Even with three of the four games broadcasted on major networks (Fox and NBC), the final numbers came out worse than expected.

  • Friday – Michigan Panthers vs Tampa Bay Bandits on USA – 250,000 avg. viewers
  • Saturday – New Orleans Breakers vs New Jersey Generals on Fox – 734,000 avg viewers
  • Sunday – Birmingham Stallions vs Philadelphia Stars on NBC – 905,000 viewers
  • Sunday – Pittsburgh Maulers vs Houston Gamblers on Fox –692,000 avg. viewers

In total, Week 5 averaged just over 640,000 viewers per game and 770,000 across the marquee networks. It’s the worst USFL TV ratings of the 2022 season.

There’s another factor to keep in mind moving forward. This is a crucial season for the USFL that is all about building a TV audience, attendance at games was never a priority and it’s getting worse. However, the XFL is launching in 2023 and is already partnered with ESPN. It’s very unlikely that two spring football leagues can survive simultaneously and that’s even assuming one makes it to 2024.

USFL ratings show positive signs in Week 4

USFL: Houston Gamblers vs New Orleans Breakers
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

While the USFL is still competing against the NBA Playoffs, things are looking a bit better for the league as the 2022 season progresses and viewership holds steady. While Week 4 wasn’t the most exciting slate, it proved to be worthwhile for the league’s TV partners.

Here are the USFL. TV ratings for Week 4.

  • Friday 10 PM slot – Michigan Panthers vs Philadelphia Stars on Fox Sports 1 – 207K avg. viewers
  • Saturday 7 PM slot – Birmingham Stallions vs TB Bandits on Fox – 1.051 million avg viewers
  • Sunday afternoon – Houston Gamblers vs New Orleans Breakers on NBC – 1.159 million avg. viewers

While there is a dip in viewership for the game on Fox Sports 1, Fox saw its viewership hold steady and NBC will surely walk away fairly pleased with its 1.159 million average viewers. For comparison, NBC’s coverage of the Chicago White Sox vs Boston Red Sox game on Sunday morning (11:30 AM EST) drew 1.295 million viewers

USFL Week 3 competes against NFL Draft

USFL: New Jersey Generals at Philadelphia Stars
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

When the USFL launched in the spring, it knew the time would come when it had to compete against the NFL Draft. While plenty of hardcore football fans tuned in to see who their teams would select in Rounds 4-7, the USFL still fared decently with its Week 3 slate. While the afternoon game didn’t crack 1 million, the Saturday night game did.

  • Saturday, April 30 – Tampa Bay Bandits vs Houston Gamblers (FOX) 825,000 viewers
  • Saturday, April 30 – Birmingham Stallions vs New Orleans Breakers (FOX) – 1.144 million

The average total viewers marked an increase from the Saturday night USFL broadcast a week earlier on FOX, a meeting between the Philadelphia Stars and Pittsburgh Maulers that drew 1.056 million average viewers for the network.

  • Sunday, May 1 – Michigan Panthers vs Pittsburgh Maulers (USA) – 292,000 viewers

As for the second Sunday USFL game between the New Jersey Generals vs Philadelphia Stars, it aired on Peacock and ratings were not made available.

USFL TV ratings drop but end up better than EPL and NHL

USFL: Tampa Bay Bandits at Pittsburgh Maulers
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Week two in the USFL offered a couple of high-scoring shootouts on Saturday, April 24, sandwiched in between a pair of less exciting outings from the league’s teams on Friday and Sunday. In the game of the week, the Birmingham Stallions moved to 2-0 with a 33-28 win over the Houston Gamblers. While on the same day, interstate rivals the Pittsburgh Maulers and Philadelphia Star duked it out in a closely contested 30-23 game won by the Stars.

Related: NFL TV ratings

The high offensive output actually led to some solid TV ratings for the league on Saturday. The Maulers vs Stars game earned 1.056 million viewers on Fox. Those numbers, combined with the USFL’s other games this weekend were actually better than Premier League coverage on NBC and NHL action on ABC this past weekend.

The Sunday, April 25 afternoon matchup between the New Orleans Breakers and Tampa Bay Bandits only pulled in 812,000 for NBC. While the Saturday action offered decent numbers, it was still the peak of viewers for the league over the second week of the season.

NBC, Fox split 2.95 million viewers in USFL 2022 debut

USFL: New Jersey Generals at Birmingham Stallions
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 USFL season kicked off on Saturday, April 16 with a matchup between the Birmingham Stallions and New Jersey Generals. It turned into a captivating game with big plays early and it came down to the wire with a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.

This game also marked a rare moment for sports television. For the first time since 2007 – when CBS and NBC broadcasted a Week 17 contest between the New England Patriots and New York Giants – two major TV networks televised the same sporting event. Because of the split distribution, Fox and NBC split the USFL TV ratings.

According to Programming Insider, the Stallions vs Generals game averaged 2.95 million viewers with a 0.4 rating in the 18-49 demographic. NBC came out slightly ahead in terms of total viewership, but each network received a 0.4 rating.

  • USFL ratings on NBC: 1.52 million
  • USFL ratings on Fox: 1.43 million

It’s important to put those numbers in context against competition from other pro sports. According to Sports Media Watch, the largest audience for the 2022 NBA Play-in Tournament came on Thursday, April 14 when TNT averaged 2.7 million viewers for an elimination game between the Los Angeles Clippers vs Minnesota Timberwolves. Meanwhile, the play-in game matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers vs Brooklyn Nets averaged 2.48 million viewers.

Collectively, the USFL’s kickoff game performed better and seemingly shows potential for a market in the spring for live football. However, the ratings being split across two networks and a comparison to the CFL isn’t favorable for the USFL.

USFL attendance totals highlight another problem

USFL: Houston Gamblers at Michigan Panthers
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

While the USFL Week 1 ratings were touted by the league, there is a different issue regarding interest in spring football. According to WBRC 6, the USFL distributed approximately 40,000 tickets for its opening game with the hope fans would come in droves for some live football in April.

Instead, roughly 17,500 people showed up to watch the game in person. It was apparent during the broadcast with cameras angles catching sections of open seating and gaps in aisles between spectators. Competitive games helped keep fans inside the stadium, but that only lasts for so long.

In the Week 1 Sunday doubleheader, things looked even worse with huge portions of the stands just vacant chairs. On the opening weekend, the USFL’s popularity in its host city doesn’t seem to be there right now.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of work to be done. The USFL ratings were acceptable for an opening weekend, but they ended up dipping, unfortunately. If it isn’t balanced with improving attendance, that spells trouble considering what happened to the AAF and XFL as we explain further.

Comparing USFL TV ratings to XFL, AAF

XFL: Dallas Renegades at LA Wildcats
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Viewership is always high when a pro league debuts. We’ve seen that on full display with the XFL, AAF and it’s very likely the USFL fits into that category.

The XFL kicked off its 2020 season days after the Super Bowl, wanting to take advantage of fans still hungry for more football. It received strong ratings in its debut with 3.3 million viewers tuning in for the kickoff game on ABC, per Pro Football Talk.

While the AAF didn’t have as much fanfare as the XFL, given it was a startup without a brand name people recognized, it performed well in 2019. The AAF kickoff game drew 2.9 million viewers for CBS in February 2019. In both instances, like with the USFL ratings, it competed with the NBA.

Unfortunately, these leagues often see a dip in viewership after the first weeks. Many fans check it out and with players they don’t recognize competing with teams they have no connection with, it becomes an easy decision to turn off the game and wait elsewhere.

In Week 5 of the XFL season, ratings dipped below 1 million average viewers. It proved to be the final games for the league thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for the AAF, which partnered with CBS Sports Network and NFL Network after Week 1, ratings steadily plummeted before the league folded.

Fox is invested in the USFL right now, which provides the network with an incentive to keep the league going. There is also a heavier dependency on the television audience because all eight USFL teams are playing in Birmingham, Alabama. With crowd sizes likely to decline, USFL TV ratings need to be high for the league to survive. We’ll see if they find a way to avoid the audience dip that sunk those before them.