Fox Sports has a stake in the USFL revival (or reboot, really, considering the new venture has nothing to do with the original USFL) coming this spring, so some games were obviously going to end up on Fox platforms.
Not all of them will, though. To that end, news broke today that NBC will partner with the new spring league as a home for the remainder of the contests. (All of which, by the way, will be played in Birmingham. Hooray for cost savings!)
John Ourand had that report for Sports Business Journal, noting that NBC will put games on network NBC, USA, and Peacock. (NBC Sports Network will obviously go dark before the league begins play.)
USFL games will appear on NBC platforms when it launches this spring, thanks to a rights deal that the media company signed with the Fox Sports-controlled league. NBC joins Fox Sports as the league’s two official broadcast partners, with Fox carrying 22 games and NBC carrying 21. Sources said that NBC’s deal runs for three years and involves a rights fee. NBC will carry eight games on its broadcast channel, nine games on USA Network and four games on Peacock. Fox will carry 12 games on its broadcast channel and 10 games on FS1.
On the surface, it’s maybe a bit odd to have NBC broadcasting a product owned at least in part by a competing network/outlet. But those lines are just going to become more and more blurred going forward anyway as different media companies take more direct stakes in various leagues and properties. (NBC and Fox have cut deals before, too, including when Fox offloaded their golf slate to NBC at a discounted rate.)
The real surprise here might be that not one but two major networks view the idea of a spring pro football league being a viable long-term broadcast product. This has obviously been a white whale for many in sports for decades, with the XFL/AAF duel shutdowns in 2020 the most recent example. (The XFL is also going to be back at some point.) NBC, at least, seems to view it as a way to fill a hole in their sports rights calendar:
For NBC, the deal provides programming at a time of year — starting in April the week after the Masters — when it has little competition. “April is the perfect moment in the sports calendar to debut the USFL,” said NBC Sports Chair Pete Bevacqua. “We love the spot in the calendar.” NBC also likes the idea of spreading games across three of its platforms — broadcast, cable and streaming. “It worked for us to have that platform flexibility,” Bevacqua said.
It does make sense from an NBC tentpole perspective. There’s no potential Olympic conflict, and they’re also certainly invested in pro football. They have various PGA Tour rights, in the spring and summer, but no major events. They don’t have baseball, basketball, or hockey anymore, and the Premier League wraps up in May (and likely wouldn’t be an issue given timeslots.) Their NASCAR slate doesn’t start until June. They have the room and the gaping maw of Peacock to fill.
And for Fox, this is a big win for both stability and visibility. Having another network on board to promote the league’s existence is huge considering they’re attempting to thread a needle that so far has managed to not only avoid being threaded but to put every would-be threader out of business. Will the USFL be the league to buck that trend? It’s impossible to say. But this news certainly doesn’t hurt.