The UFL has work to do

When the second (or third) iteration of the XFL and the second coming of the USFL merged to form the United Football League1And even that is a re-heated leftover name., some markets were always going to be a challenge, attendance-wise. But it’s really bad now that the final 2024 numbers are in.

St. Louis is doing great. The Battlehawks are a playoff team and they far and away lead the league, having drawn an average of 34,365 announced fans per game for their five home games2That’s actually down slightly from a year ago, proving once again that spite can only do so much..

But the other seven teams collectively averaged an announced 9,751, and half the league’s games couldn’t crack 10,000 fans. Here are the numbers:

TeamGTotalAverageMedianHighLow
St. Louis Battlehawks5171,82534,36532,96940,31731,757
D.C. Defenders570,71514,14314,30316,05812,222
San Antonio Brahmas559,43911,88811,79013,16411,251
Birmingham Stallions551,27510,25510,24514,0567,133
Arlington Renegades549,4349,8878,54514,1538,042
Michigan Panthers540,6698,1347,4759,4446,952
Houston Roughnecks535,2827,0566,5279,1576,134
Memphis Showboats534,4666,8936,3878,7915,609
UFL TOTAL 40513,10512,8289,84540,3175,609

Now, let’s be fair: the former USFL teams have never really had a presence to speak of in their “home” markets. Every game was played in Birmingham in 2022, and teams operated out of “hubs” (two to a city, with one representing that city) in 2023. And Week One was Easter Weekend, while Week Nine was Memorial Day Weekend. (Though, seriously…if you can’t play on Easter Weekend and can’t play on Memorial Day Weekend, it kind of limits what you can do as a spring football league, right?)

But these are bad numbers. Football is the most popular sport in the culture, and all we’ve been told for years is that there’s a huge market for spring football.

No, there was a decent-sized market for spring football forty years ago, but it wasn’t enough to pay the bills, as the original USFL lost scads of money3And, no, they would not still be around had they stayed in the spring, that’s nonsense. They limped to the finish in their last season in the spring and football only got more expensive in the years afterwards.. Since then, the original XFL, the Alliance of American Football, the second XFL, the re-booted USFL and now this league have all tried and haven’t been able to get people to demonstrate they will buy tickets to watch Not Quite Good Enough Players “develop” in hopes of getting an NFL shot.

Now, the UFL is, at heart, a TV show. Fox and ESPN get programming and they get people to watch, and that’s fine. They aren’t getting the huge stream of TV money that every non-NFL league dreams of, but they have a television audience, and maybe that’s enough to keep it going. Maybe with another year for Houston, Memphis, Michigan and Arlington to market, they can figure out a way to draw more.

But please, I’ve been hearing the “huge market for spring football” nonsense for years. And no matter how many leagues come and go, always failing to draw and losing millions of dollars, the alt-football fanboys will never stop.

There is no huge market for spring football. There’s a market. Not a huge one. There’s a huge market for more NFL football. People will watch the draft and the combine and the schedule release, and they’ll kvetch about playoff games being streamed (but they’ll sign up anyway, and most of them kept their subscriptions despite their bitching), but they’ll watch. And they’ll go.

No one’s going to UFL games outside of St. Louis. And maybe no one ever will.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch

2 thoughts on “The UFL has work to do

  1. One issue the UFL has is bad start times. Many Saturday’s had a noon Eastern start time. For teams in the Central Time Zone, the games were starting at 11. It’s difficult to get a crowd that early on a Saturday.

    1. And they say the Fox games next year will be on Friday nights, which might be better or might not.

      In any case, college football can play at 11 a.m., and the NFL can play on Christmas or on a Wednesday at 7 a.m. and still draw. The UFL can’t really just throw open the doors and expect people to show up.

      That said, the UFL is a TV show, basically. As long as people watch (and it has an audience, however engaged they might be), the powers that be seem content.

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