NBC won’t carry USFL and XFL football games following the merger of the two leagues. Instead, games will be split between ABC, ESPN, FOX, and FS1.
The network cited scheduling conflicts as the driving force behind this decision. The merger adds three weeks’ worth of games in a timeslot NBC already committed to golfing events.
“We enjoyed our relationship with the USFL and FOX, but the new earlier schedule made it impossible for us to continue,” said NBC Sports Executive Vice President of Communications Greg Hughes, according to PF News Room. “We wish them success with the new league and their new partners.”
The news marks the end of NBC’s short partnership with the USFL, which began when the league relaunched in April 2022. The network aired the first two seasons and the Championship game in July along with FOX, which netted 1.2 million viewers tuning in to watch the Pittsburgh Maulers take on the Michigan Panthers.
The network also had an established relationship with the XFL, co-owning the league alongside Vince McMahon in 2001 when he initially attempted to launch the league with disappointing ratings. In 2020, McMahon relaunched the league for a second season before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which was granted if he agreed not to repurchase the league later. In August 2020, McMahon sold the XFL to Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, and Gerry Cardinale for $15 million.
The merger could be a good move to grow the league. The alternative football leagues have struggled for years, but in an era of streaming, overlooked content can find new life. The league is expected to change the number of teams from 8 each to a combined 10-12. By picking up ABC, ESPN, FOX Sports, and FS1, the league can expand its reach on TV and the networks’ streaming services, like Hulu + Live TV, ESPN+, or the free FOX Sports app.
NBC reported a 16% decline in ratings compared to last year, according to Sports Business Journal. USFL games average 601,000 viewers, while the XFL sees 622,000 views. How many will catch the upcoming season is uncertain, as some fans of each league could be double dipping.
USFL and XFL’s partnership was put on hold while federal antitrust regulators conducted an investigation. It was approved on November 30, and XFL CEO Russ Brandon will lead the blended league. Names for the new league and the number of teams are expected before the year’s end. PF News Room said in September, the USFL registered a trademark for “National Spring Football League” on September 27.
NBC, USFL, and XFL were not immediately available for comment. The 2024 season begins on March 30.