This Friday, the USFL will play an unorthodox “after-dark” game as the Philadelphia Stars will play the Michigan Panthers at 10 PM ET/9 PM CT on FS1. FS1 chose this time slot rather than an earlier time slot on Friday night as a NASCAR Truck Series race airs prior to this game.
The unorthodox time slot may pay off for the league as really the only nationally-televised sporting events may be the Warrior-Grizzlies Game Six matchup and the Game Six matchups in the Flames-Stars and Avalanche-Predators series. Of course, the USFL will hope none of those series reach six games.
Yet, this is daunting competition for the league as the first round of the NBA Playoffs had the highest viewership since 2018. Additionally, the Warriors remain one of the league’s most popular teams.
Potentially, a late-night “West Coast” time slot could work for the league, but only if they expand. The westernmost team in the league is the Houston Gamblers, and even they are only in the Central Time Zone. Philadelphia and Michigan fans will likely have a hard time staying up to watch their teams play given the late start time. It also does not help that the Michigan Panthers have been far from “must-see TV”, averaging 14 points per game in the first three games of the season.
There is an argument that it is beneficial for the league to use East Coast teams in this timeslot to avoid depending on markets with playoff basketball. Detroit and Philadelphia are two of the largest TV markets in the country and the two regions will be mostly detached from the Western Conference series in the NHL and NBA.
If the league is to take advantage of the relatively light late-night sports slate, expansion may be the answer, but Friday’s game will be an experiment for the USFL to optimize their viewership. If the game is a success, the league may have a solid TV slot to work with in the future.