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FOX Provides Glimpse at USFL Relaunch, Are Viewers Ready for More Football?

Jeff Kotuby

We haven’t heard much about FOX’s rebooted USFL, but CFO Steven Tomsic offered some insight into what the company has planned for the future.

During the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference, Tomsic was asked about the USFL and how things were going. In short, FOX is excited about the upstart spring football league. “We think that there is absolute consumer demand for spring league,” Tomsic said. “It’s not meant to be a competitor to the NFL obviously, but it serves a few purposes for us. One is, it builds another sort of sporting property for us in the spring. The other piece to it is that we own it. And so the benefits of we don’t rent the asset, like we rent virtually all the other sporting businesses that we have the rights for, we will own this asset. If it is successful, it would become potentially a very, very lucrative asset for us to own. Lastly, it’s another asset that becomes quite interesting for us from a sports betting perspective.” Tomsic also credits the USFL’s status as a “legacy brand” featuring familiar team logos that will provide familiarity.

If you’re keeping score at home, this could be interpreted to say that FOX started an entire football league to broadcast live sports rights they won’t have to pay for and for gambling money, which isn’t that crazy, honestly. Live sports are the last bastion of hope for advertisers looking for a significant return on investment for their ad spots, so it would make sense for a linear broadcast entity to host as many live sports as humanly possible to get those sweet, sweet ad dollars.

Add the fact that the league isn’t a standalone entity but is instead owned by FOX means the ad revenue goes right back into the company and not towards rights fees like they’d pay for NFL or MLB games. On the topic of sports gambling, FOX can direct users to its FOX Bet app, completely keeping the entire USFL fan experience in-house, further increasing revenue. The whole experience seems like a no-brainer as long as the league holds up its end of the bargain.

But the idea of alternate football leagues has been bandied about for decades, and seemingly every generation of sports fan has an instance of a league that isn’t the NFL coming onto the scene and crumbling. Baby boomers and Gen Xers remember the World Football League and the first USFL, Millennials remember the first XFL and may even recall the UFL. Even Gen Z has gotten to experience flashes in the pan with the AAF and the second XFL. We’ve also seen alternate football leagues thrive for years, including the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. While the latter ultimately folded due to internal instability, the CFL still exists up north as a functioning alternative to the NFL and has even sourced players to the NFL, like Philadelphia Eagles LB Alex Singleton and former Grey Cup champion Chris Streveler, now of the Baltimore Ravens.

So what makes this USFL different? Well, TV rights, for one. FOX has a variety of platforms it can use to broadcast games, including the main FOX channel, FS1, FS2, and even the Fox Sports App if they wanted to bring games there. FOX could also use Tubi, its FAST platform, to broadcast games, too. Broadcasting rights didn’t doom both iterations of the XFL but doomed just about every other alternate football league in existence (imagine trying to find HDNet to watch UFL games — it was that bad.) We also seem to be inching towards the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is what crushed the second XFL, meaning that barring a truly catastrophic setback, live sports should be back for good this time.

Now the USFL 2.0’s success simply hinges on making sure the league’s quality of play is up to snuff, which has proven to be the more difficult part of the equation to uphold. We do know from internal Disney data that 68% of sports streamers have become passionate about a sport they didn’t have access to before streaming. Perhaps the time is right for a new league.

FOX announced the reboot earlier this year and is set to kick off in April 2022. There’s no word on whether the league will be able to kick off in four months’ time. You can watch FOX with a free trial of Hulu Live TV.

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