NBC Sports president John Miller knows the dangers of starting the Spring Football League. The network teamed up with Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment with NBC during the XFL’s first launch in 2001 and has seen other leagues crash and burn.
Miller is optimistic that a new version of the USFL may have some staying power.
“Hopefully, the fifth time is a charm. I think the timing is right, the partnership is right, and the model is born for success,” Miller said. “We are optimistic, hopeful, and excited at the same time.”
The USFL begins on Saturday night in Birmingham, Alabama, when the New Jersey Generals face the Birmingham Stallions.
Fox and NBC Sports will play 22 games each, including Saturday’s opener. This is the first time since the conclusion of the 2007 regular season between the New England Patriots and New York Giants that a game will be broadcast on multiple broadcast networks.
Fox Sports owns the USFL and is investing $150 million over three years. The only similarity between the 1983–85 USFL and this one is the team names.
Fox Sports executive vice president Michael Mulvihill thinks the XFL would have made it if it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic. The league suspended operations in April 2020 during the pandemic. It was played five weeks before COVID-19 halted the games a month ago.
In 2019, the Coalition of American Football closed after eight weeks of running out of money.
“I think spring football’s audience figures are enough to give us a high degree of confidence that there is interest among fans,” Mulvihill said. “It just becomes a matter of whether we can develop a business model that is more effective than the leagues that have tried and haven’t succeeded. Because we are structured as we are, we have a good chance of doing so.”
There are two important differences with the USFL before it started. It has waited till April for the season to start. The XFL and AAF began their seasons shortly after the Super Bowl and eventually went up against the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the Masters.
The USFL’s most important competition for spectators will be the NBA and NHL playoffs through the end of May. The XFL averaged 1.5 million viewers on Fox and ABC during the final week of their games, while the AAF ratings for games on the NFL Network were similar to those of preseason NFL games.
The other difference is that the season will take place in two cities. The regular season will take place in Birmingham, with playoffs expected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“It’s beneficial for us to get to a solid financial footing and then start to dial it down in year two. Our target is year two. No one has done that in a while,” said former Dallas Cowboys standout and Fox NFL commentator Daryl Johnson, executive vice president of football operations for the USFL.
Johnson also had front-office roles in the XFL and AAF. Brian Woods, founder of The Spring League, is the USFL’s president of football operations, while Fox NFL and college football rules analyst Mike Pereira will serve as acting chief.
Eight teams will play a 10-game schedule during the regular season, with the top two in the North and South divisions advancing to the playoffs. The championship game will be a matchup of the division winners.
Among other things to watch out for with the new league:
close to the game
Fox and NBC will use drones for football game coverage for the first time. During last week’s scrimmages, the drone chased a player through a hole to show his running path during a play.
The helmets of two players from each team will also have cameras. During the scrimmage, the helmet cam captured a player blocking a punt and a defensive back blocking a pass in the end zone.
The broadcast will have access to all audio feeds of the coaches and 32 players from both teams wearing mics.
“The technology will grow throughout the season because there are things that have never been tried before,” said Fox Sports producer Chuck McDonald. “The biggest learning curve will be finding out what’s great.”
The technology won’t just extend to broadcasting. Instead, the USFL will not use a chain gang, relying on a chip inside the football to see the ball. On close plays for the first down, the hockey technique – used in tennis to tell whether a ball is inbound – will be used to see if a player gets the required yards.
In addition to an extra point and a 2-point conversion after a touchdown, teams may attempt a 3-point conversion from the 10-yard line. This means that a theoretical deficit of 18 points remains a two-capture game.
Teams will also have the option of running a fourth and 12 game from the 33-yard line, so that instead of kicking onside, he can go first down and retain possession.
Most defensive pass interference calls will be 15 yards. If a defender deliberately tackles a receiver for more than 15 yards it will be a spot foul.
Teams, players and coaches of note
According to FanDuel SportsbookThe Michigan Panthers and Tampa Bay Bandits are co-favorites at 4.5-1.
Former Titans and Rams coach Jeff Fischer is directing the Panthers, while Todd Haley is leading the Bandits.
The quarterback also has two of Michigan’s more recognizable names. Former University of Michigan standout Shea Patterson is in line to start, with Paxton Lynch serving as backup. Lynch played for the Broncos and Seahawks.
More Associated Press Sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports