For the first time in a long time, a spring pro football league has not only survived its entire inaugural season, but announced their return for year two. In the days ramping up to this weekend's USFL championship game featuring the Birmingham Stallions and the Philadelphia Stars, the second iteration of the most successful spring league so far made it official: USFL Set to Return For Second Season.
USFL 2.0 Returns for 2023
The USFL will come back for a second season and expand into more markets, Fox Sports CEO and Executive Producer Eric Shanks told SBJ in an exclusive interview. While it was generally expected that the spring football league would embark on a second season, this marks the first time that the USFL has confirmed that it will play in 2023. Shanks, who also serves as Chair of the USFL BOD, said that the league will continue to have its league office in Birmingham, where it has played all of its games this season. But the USFL’s eight teams will play out of between two and four markets next season, meaning each market will house multiple teams. Eventually, the plan is for all the teams to be in their home markets. “We’re talking to those cities now in terms of how many we’re going to be in locally,” Shanks said during a telephone interview over the weekend.
Having the teams actually play in their cities will be a huge step forward in fanbase building. Let’s face it, it’s hard to care about a team called the Houston Gamblers when that team operates and plays its home (and away) games in Birmingham, Alabama.
The USFL also plans to expand into more markets in 2024.
The league, which plays its inaugural championship game this weekend, will not expand the number of teams next season beyond eight, but it expects to add more teams by 2024. “We’ve always had an expansion plan that could potentially come into play in year three and beyond,” Shanks said. “Next year, it will still be eight teams, but they will play in multiple cities, so we’ll get more home markets involved.” The USFL will keep roughly the same schedule next season: starting just after the Masters and concluding July 4 weekend. “We have a multi-year plan to build this football business,” Shanks said. “If anything, the success of season one makes me even more excited than we were before going into Season 2 and beyond.”
The USFL vs The XFL
Next spring will also bring real competition for the USFL, as Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s version of the XFL will launch in 2023. It’s hard to say how the two leagues will fair against one another in head to head battles for the hearts and minds of fans nationwide. However, the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks already have a leg up on the Gamblers. Not only are the Roughnecks the defacto reigning XFL champions, but their head coach, some guy name Wade Phillips, has a tiny bit of H-Town cred, since both he and his father are legendary Houston football Hall of Famers.
Given the choice between rooting for a Phillips-led Houston Roughnecks team playing live games at the University of Houston’s TDECU stadium, or watching the bumbling, fumbling, Houston Gamblers play games in Alabama, the safe bet goes to the Roughnecks.
Is pro football fandom big enough to support two spring leagues? Can one of them leverage their existence into a partnership with the NFL to remain viable? Only time will tell...