The USFL Playoffs: Proving Spring Football Belongs On The Big Stage

The USFL Playoffs: Proving Spring Football Belongs On The Big Stage

The USFL put on a show in the postseason, culminating in an incredible Championship game on Sunday night. Birmingham was crowned the champion, after topping Philadelphia in a back and forth affair.

Generally speaking, the new league had a lot to prove heading into its inaugural season. After the AAF and XFL folded before finishing a single year, many doubted the USFL’s ability to get through 2022.

However, here we are, at the conclusion of a spring football league’s season. What factors led to the USFL seeing such a successful year? Does this league belong with the country’s established and elite sports? And, how will the USFL build upon its foundation heading into season two?

Well, let’s take a look, as the postseason gave us quite a few answers to those questions.

Quality Of Play

First and foremost, a sports league will not see long term success if the gameplay on the field doesn’t live up to expectations. Thankfully, the USFL provided fans with plenty of excellent entertainment throughout the season – and that only elevated in the playoffs.

All three postseason games featured no shortage of big plays, intense moments, and triumphant victories. It was clear that every player, coach, and person involved cared quite a bit about winning the inaugural Championship.

For casual and diehard fans alike, there was plenty to enjoy during the USFL’s first postseason. Each matchup was a close affair, showcasing the league’s best players adequately. KaVontae Turpin, Victor Bolden, J’Mar Smith, Case Cookus, and others put on a show for viewers to experience.

In the past, spring leagues have struggled to maintain a level of play that at least resembles the NFL. This notion was completely put to the side for the USFL, however. Each team displayed many athletes who certainly looked like they belonged on the gridiron. There weren’t any ‘lop-sided’ matchups either, despite Birmingham being an early favorite from the get go.

Quite simply, if someone did not enjoy the product on the field this postseason, that is their own problem. Offenses were making big plays, defenses were coming up with clutch stops, and even the special teams units were on fire. There is no denying the fact that the USFL provided fans with exceptional football across the board, something that can propel the league into a successful second year.

Broadcasts

The first round was split between NBC and FOX, with FOX hosting the Championship game. As expected, each TV broadcast was incredible from start to finish. It is clear to see that FOX, in particular, has bought into the concept of spring football entirely.

Throughout the season, the USFL provided fans with unique access that many sports leagues would never dare to do. With all of the mics running hot, you were able to hear, and see, aspects of the game that simply haven’t been televised before.

FOX’ team of Curt Menefee, Joel Klatt, and Brock Huard on the call brought the gameplay and content to a whole new level. Klatt and Huard are a fantastic duo to back up Menefee, as both provide phenomenal insight into what is happening on and off the field. When it comes to overall production, the league did an excellent job working with their networks to put out something unique and professional. The playoffs proved exactly that.

Ratings

Both semi-finals games notched just under one million viewers, which is a respectable number. Sure, seeing millions would have been welcomed. But, the league is still in the growing stages. With teams playing outside of their individual markets, it will be tough to reach their full potential until that possibility is made into a reality.

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However, the Championship itself was quite impressive. The 33-30 shootout averaged over 1.5 million viewers, peaking at around 1.8M. Clearly, there is a market for spring football – whether you like it or not.

From a ratings standpoint, 1.5M doesn’t seem to measure up for a Championship game. The Stanley Cup Finals averaged 4.6M viewers. An average of 12.4M people tuned in to watch the Golden State Warriors defeat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. So, why are people ecstatic over the USFL’s final numbers?

Once again, what has to be brought to mind is the fact that all eight teams played in Birmingham. Neither Los Angeles or New York City (the country’s two biggest markets) were engaged with the USFL at all. As the league expands into more cities, viewership will increase accordingly. It just takes time. The NBA, NHL, MLB, etc. have been established for decades – so expecting the USFL to directly compete with their numbers right away is a bit outlandish.

On top of that, the USFL was neck and neck with plenty of spring sports. FOX/USFL executives are pleased with the numbers they’ve seen so far. Again; this is something to build upon. Year one is not the end all – there is a much bigger vision in sight. But, when all is said and done, the USFL’s inaugural playoffs were nothing but a success in the eyes of FOX and NBC, which is what matters most.

Spring Football’s Legitimacy

To reiterate what has been said throughout this article, it’s hard to ask much more from the USFL in their first postseason. The games were superb, the production was top notch, and fans of football were entertained throughout its entirety.

Of course, there are always improvements to be made. It is a priority to get more fans to the games, which is something that will be addressed in the offseason. Certain production factors can be looked at as well (i.e. drone noise).

At the end of the day, the USFL did what no one has done since 2001: finish a season – and they did so in spectacular fashion. If this postseason is a sign of what’s to come heading into 2023, the league is in fantastic shape. The foundation has been set, and everything points to an upwards trend from here on out.

Final Thoughts

While the NFL is king (and likely always be), the USFL isn’t trying to be the NFL. Spring football is a niche of its own, and FOX is well aware of that. If someone tuned into a USFL game for the first time this weekend, it would be hard to tell that the league is brand new. The product is that solid, and can only get better in the future.

Personally, after experiencing the USFL’s championship first hand and up close – I can gladly say that it was a sensational product that rivaled any sports league.

Generally speaking, the entire USFL organization should be quite proud of what they accomplished this year, and look forward to everything that lies ahead.

What did you think of the USFL’s inaugural postseason? Did you enjoy the Championship game? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!

Fubo