The USFL is in its second iteration since debuting in 1983. But this is not your grandma’s United States Football League. Far from it. The name might be the same. The logo and some team names might look familiar. But a new ownership makes this a new league.
So who owns the USFL, and what kind of financial investments were made to put the league in motion?
Who Owns the USFL?
The USFL originally launched in 1982, with its inaugural season taking place the following year. It was the culmination of years of study and discussions centered around a football league that could thrive during the NFL offseason in the spring and summer. In this way, the two leagues wouldn’t actively compete for viewers.
Famously, the league shut down in 1986. Despite winning an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL for violating anti-monopoly laws, the NFL was ordered to pay only $1 in penalties.
Thirty-five years later, in 2021, Brian Woods teamed with Fox Sports to form National Spring Football League Enterprises Co., LLC. This joint venture included a three-year, $150 million investment from Fox Sports into the league.
In the previous decade, Woods had launched two other leagues: the Fall Experimental Football League and the Spring League.
What made the USFL re-launch different is that it was a previous entity that still had branding power, which presumably was appealing to Fox Sports, which saw an opportunity to invest in a familiar enterprise with massive growth potential. It helped that Woods already had purchased most of the old USFL’s trademarks, helping to ensure a more seamless transition across generations.
Last December, after a successful first season, Woods stepped down from his role as USFL president.
What Happened to the Old USFL?
There are many reasons why the old USFL folded in 1986, much of it financial. But more than that, there was an overlay of instability.
New sports leagues often struggle to build followings and establish financial sustainability. The old USFL had the luxury of bringing an increasingly popular sport to the masses during the rapid rise in popularity of televised sports. The recent launch of ESPN proved there was a market for fans year-round, day and night.
On the field, the league seemed to work in 1983. Play was fairly competitive. Attendance and TV ratings were solid. Some major NFL-caliber players signed on. The league’s outlook appeared promising.
However, instability took its toll. Several owners sold their teams. One owner stopped paying his team’s bills. A different team had its franchise revoked after not being able to cover its debts. Some franchises merged out of financial necessity. Fandom took a hit when teams relocated. And so on.
No one thing destroyed the original USFL. It was a combination of factors that quickly transformed a promising product into an entity that could no longer support the weight of its shortcomings.
Who Are the Teams in the New USFL?
The 2023 iteration of the USFL is divided into two four-team divisions. The North Division features:
- Michigan Panthers
- New Jersey Generals
- Philadelphia Stars
- Pittsburgh Maulers
Meanwhile, the South Division includes:
- Birmingham Stallions
- Houston Gamblers
- Memphis Showboats
- New Orleans Breakers