When it comes to spring football leagues (USFL, XFL, AAF, etc.), one of the most popular questions concerns player salaries. As the new-look USFL makes its triumphant return after an exciting 2022 debut, let’s dig into how much these players earn, especially in light of the impact financial security has on athletes quickly trying to carve out professional careers.
USFL Player Salaries for the 2023 Season
The 1980s version of the USFL was a breakout success … until it wasn’t. While there are many reasons why that league folded, poorly managed finances played a significant role.
Perhaps you remember those days. Or if you’re younger than Harry Styles, you might ask your dad to tell you all about it. Or if you were born after 2008, you might need to ask your grandma, who — trust me — still reminisces about the glory days of Jim Kelly in a Houston Gamblers uniform.
The new iteration of the USFL has applied valuable lessons from the rapidly disintegrated league of the 1980s. Cost controls were in full effect last year. In fact, all 40 regular-season games were played in Birmingham, which helped ensure the league and its teams kept expenses to a minimum.
This is the nature of most start-up organizations, which must remain lean until they achieve sustainable and meaningful profit margins. And this is largely why the USFL has adopted tight controls over player salaries, which are even lower than those in the XFL.
The following is a basic breakdown of what players can earn in the 2023 season.
- Per-Week Salary for Training Camp: $600
- Per-Game Salary for the Regular Season: $4,500
- Per-Week Salary on the Practice Squad: $1,500
- Bonus per Regular-Season Win: $850
- Bonus for Winning the Championship: Up to $10,000
If you do the math, you might draw two competing conclusions. On the one hand, this might seem like chump change for professional athletes playing on national television. Some of these guys have seen NFL action. Many others are borderline rosterable in the NFL — or at least deserving of spots on practice squads.
On the other hand, the season is a little under three months long. Add in training camp, and we’re talking about less than one-third of a year. This means hundreds of athletes will earn (by and large) livable wages for the year, even if they don’t work another job the rest of the year.
Ask every USFL player if he’d rather play for relatively little money and earn a shot at playing at a higher level or train in relative obscurity in an attempt to make an NFL team, and I would bet nearly every player adamantly would say they’re happy where they are.
Because several USFL players from 2022 have gone on to earn more money in the XFL and even the NFL. The USFL might understand its current status as a destination for football players hungry for a shot and as a stepping stone for leagues that can afford to pay more.
This doesn’t mean this is how it will always be. On the contrary, the USFL is playing it smart, building its organization from the ground up, aspiring to achieve sustainable and meaningful growth, and (eventually?) rewarding its players with salaries more in line with their talent.
It’s also interesting to note that some USFL players might have tough decisions to make this season. For example, take Tyler Scott, the first WR taken in this year’s USFL Draft. The New Orleans Breakers snagged him in the first round. He could be one of the best receivers in the league in his first professional campaign.
Except he also might be drafted in the NFL, where he could earn at least 20x more while playing on the world’s biggest stage.
Capped player salaries prevent the USFL from attracting top talent. At the same time, attracting top talent didn’t help the old USFL of the 1980s, which in hindsight, had more glamour than substance. The new USFL is charting its own path with the hope of widening that path as the league solidifies its standing.