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The USFL is returning after a decades-dormant hiatus. Can the league find success in the modern era?

In 1982, the short-lived United States Football League was founded, lasting three seasons. Forty years later, the league has announced a return, restarting play in 2022. For football fans, this is exciting. Many have welcomed spring football, giving people more opportunities to watch the sport after Super Bowl Sunday. Sports fans are always amped for more football action, and fans will undoubtedly be excited for the USFL. The obstacles for the USFL are massive though, and generating long-term success will be challenging for the league.

The USFL has challenges ahead, but the league can still find ways to grow in the modern era. Here’s how.


The USFL must learn from past failures

The USFL can certainly identify mistakes from their past. However, they should not be looking at their failures from decades ago. Instead, the USFL should turn to the failures of the AAF and XFL, two modern leagues that fell apart. The obvious example the USFL can point to is the collapse of the AAF. Despite a promising start, the AAF failed to secure proper investment and funding. The lack of funding combined with a premature startup was central to the league’s demise. The AAF had failed to keep itself afloat, and folded before even finishing their inaugural season.  The USFL must avoid that issue at all costs.

The USFL can take notes from another prominent spring football league, the XFL. The XFL did well in 2020, all things considered. The league may have folded early, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could be to blame. However, there were still some notable financial issues within the league, as it couldn’t rebound from ending its season early. The XFL filed for bankruptcy before its inevitable sale and restructure.

There is a common theme here – The USFL must have a strong financial backing, as the lack thereof has noticeably been a culprit of many past league failures. It’s imperative that those involved with the management of the league truly understand the importance of a strong financial foundation.

This may be tricky to navigate, as it is difficult to secure funding for any football league. Even with these potential concerns, The USFL must find a way to secure the funds necessary to keep the league afloat. It will take more than just a few brand deals and sponsorships – The USFL will need heavy investment. The USFL must find stability in their first few seasons, and they will need to lead a collaborated effort to do so.


The USFL must separate themselves from their competition

The USFL isn’t just looking to find a market for football outside of the NFL. They are also competing with the returning XFL to lead the charge in minor-league football. The USFL isn’t just attempting to draw viewers of the NFL, but draw viewers away from its competitors. The USFL can take inspiration from multiple spring leagues to help build a viewer base. The XFL was able to grab viewer’s attention with its unique rules and style. Some rules included a new kickoff, revamped PAT system, and more. The XFL even created a new ball tailored and designed specifically for their own rules and style of play. These all sound small, but when combined, they made for a new football experience. Doing so, the XFL developed their own culture, which led to widespread praise.

What can the USFL learn from this? Well, for starters, it means that the USFL must be unique from its XFL and NFL counterparts. The USFL must find its identity as a gridiron league. The USFL need’s to develop its culture, style, and swagger. The USFL could accomplish this goal by developing its own rules and regulations, as well as improving the fan experience. The USFL could also find ways to initiate excitement through effective social media marketing and engagement. As such, there are many ways the USFL can generate attention.


Put the Focus on Football and the Fans

Lastly, the USFL must put the focus on football and the fans of the game. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult and important to incorporate fan interest and engagement into the sport itself. It’s becoming more than just a game on TV. The USFL can’t just develop a product on the field. Rather, the league must generate engagement to promote enthusiasm and excitement. Social Media will be an integral part of this goal.


Will the USFL be successful?

At this point, it’s hard to measure how successful this league will be. However, the USFL can learn from past mistakes and focus on creating its own identity and brand. The league certainly has the potential to establish itself as a legitimate football league. Only time will tell how successful the USFL is, but if all goes according to plan, the future of the league can look bright.


Photo: AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler