The USFL’s showcase Saturday Night showdown between the Birmingham Stallions and Memphis Showboats was arguably the worst game in the short history of this incarnation of the league. The Stallions dominated throughout, winning 42-2. The game was a big enough black mark for the league that I’ve coined it, “The Saturday Night Massacre.”
In comparison, the league’s lone game on cable, the clash between the Philadelphia Stars and Michigan Panthers (FS1), was a way more competitive game with the outcome not decided until the last two minutes, with the Panthers thwarting a late comeback attempt to win 24-10.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and it was hard for the league to predict this outcome given the season’s short sample size, but it gives reason for the league to consider flex scheduling.
Why Change Is Needed
The league doesn’t have to do too much when flexing games, it can be as simple as flipping networks and times for games played on the same day on the same family of networks.
For example, let’s look at June 3rd. That day, the Houston Gamblers play the Pittsburgh Maulers on USA at noon ET, followed by the Philadelphia Stars playing the Birmingham Stallions at 3 ET on NBC. Both games are located at the Birmingham hub.
While the Stars-Stallions matchup looks like the better matchup on paper, imagine all four teams’ fortunes change – and the Gamblers-Maulers holds more weight.
The USFL would be locked into showing the inferior game on network TV while the better game is stuck on cable TV without the option to stream on Peacock. That is, unless the league flexes the games.
Flexing a doubleheader like this would not inconvenience the in-person fans as the game times are just switched and the fans still get a same-day doubleheader. The TV audience wins as the best game would be available to most of the country.
If the league wanted to be bold and wanted to go to great extents to give their fans the best game possible, they could completely rearrange the schedule. Next week’s slate could potentially benefit from flexing. Here’s the slate as it stands right now:
Sat, 4/29: Breakers-Stallions in Birmingham, 12:30 ET on USA Sat, 4/29: Showboats-Gamblers in Memphis, 7:00 ET on Fox Sun, 4/30: Maulers-Stars in Detroit, 12 ET on NBC Sun, 4/30: Generals-Panthers in Detroit, 4 ET on Fox
The Breakers-Stallions game (a rematch of the South Division championship) would likely be the least-watched game on USA. Meanwhile, a clash between two winless teams would be in the Saturday night slot. The USFL, NBC, and Fox can work together to make this slate better with these changes.
Breakers-Stallions switches TV slots and networks with Maulers-Stars.
Generals-Panthers switches with Showboats-Gamblers to become Fox’s Saturday night game.
Sure, there are still flaws with the slate after these changes, with Breakers-Stallions still not being the Saturday night game, but at least it gets flexed to network TV. Additionally, the country is saved from having to watch two of the league’s worst teams play on primetime. Further shuffling of the schedule could force NBC’s family of networks or Fox to scramble for programming, especially with Fox’s obligation to air Baseball Night in America.
The XFL used flex scheduling to their advantage multiple times over the season and the USFL should follow suit. Too many games like the Showboats-Stallions blowout in optimal time slots will hurt the league in the long run. For the fans, the USFL needs to get the best games in the best time slots.
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