Dating back to the XFL’s return in 2020, there have been multiple attempts to revive a spring football league.
Now it appears two of the most serious are about to combine forces, with Axios reporting that the XFL and USFL are in talks to merge.
According to Axios, an official announcement regarding what would be a merger of equals could come as early as this week. The XFL is owned by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners, while the USFL is owned by Fox Corp.
As for the TV rights, Axios is reporting that broadcasts would likely be split between Fox and Disney, the latter of which is currently an XFL partner. It remains unclear how the potential merger would affect the USFL’s broadcasting agreement with NBC.
Originally founded by WWE chairman Vince McMahon in 2001, the first incarnation of the XFL lasted just one season as it attempted to offer an “extreme” alternative to the NFL with flashy rule changes, nicknames on the back of the jerseys and pro wrestling-style broadcasts. In 2018, McMahon made the shocking decision to bring the league back, with the XFL’s second incarnation finding moderate success through its first five weeks in 2020 before being shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
McMahon later sold the league to Johnson and Garcia in August 2020.
But while the XFL aimed for a 2023 relaunch, the league was beat to the market by the USFL — nearly 40 years after the league’s original three-year run as an NFL alternative from 1983-1985. The second incarnation of the USFL held its first season in 2022, with seven teams playing all of their regular-season games in Birmingham, Alabama, before expanding to eight teams and hub cities in 2023.
While there have been nationally televised spring leagues in 2019 (the now-defunct AAF), 2020 (the XFL) and 2022 (the USFL), 2023 saw both the XFL and USFL play overlapping campaigns. As opposed to the 1980s, both leagues seemed to accept their role as de facto feeder systems for the NFL as opposed to being competitors, with the XFL even reaching a partnership with the league regarding innovation.
While some of the ratings spikes — particularly early in the season — would tell you that there’s interest in a spring football league, even the most casual observer could have told you that having two simply wasn’t sustainable, and the financials indicated as much. Considering the opportunities that exist from a TV rights, gambling revenue and even NFL partnership opportunity, combining both leagues’ resources makes plenty of sense and could ultimately result in the most viable spring football league there’s ever been.