A brief announcement today indicated the plan, but offered no details, saying more would be announced “at a later date.”
Both leagues have been operating under the shadow of not only the NFL, which occupies vast real estate in terms of player talent and the public’s attention, but also their own back stories.
Prior to being acquired in 2020 by Johnson, Garcia and RedBird Capital for $15 million, the XFL had been the passion project of Vince McMahon, the longtime head of the WWE. Reprising a previous venture with NBC, which sought to draft off the WWE’s edgy showmanship but wound up one of primetime television’s most notorious turkeys, the XFL 2.0 was a more buttoned-down affair. Even so, the upstart league was aiming to stir things up with an array of newer rules and a looser approach than the NFL.
The USFL, meanwhile, had similarly looked to challenge the NFL but a bit more head-on. In its first incarnation in the 1980s, the league self-destructed when it attempted to move into the fall and go head-to-head with the NFL. That first iteration ended in a legal mess. Decades later, it was revived with an unusual joint broadcast deal with both NBC and Fox, with Fox also taking a minority stake in the league.
“Subject to customary regulatory approvals and if the transaction is consummated, the new league will establish best-in-class operations based on the most recent seasons of both leagues,” today’s announcement said. “This historic combination will anchor professional spring football with substantial capabilities and resources to ensure future growth and continue to enhance the development of the collective players, coaches, and staff that are coming together.”
Hope springs eternal for a challenger to come along and gain enough momentum to survive as a legitimate “other” pro football league, but history is littered with failed attempts like the WFL and the AAF. As gargantuan as the TV audience for the NFL remains, it is far from clear whether viewers will turn out in anywhere near the same numbers for players and teams populated by far lower-profile names. The USFL Championship last July drew about 1.16 million viewers on NBC, about double the regular-season average. The XFL title game a few weeks later pulled in 1.43 million viewers on ABC.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. This league isn’t going to be built in a day,” Johnson told USA Today last summer. “It’s day-by-day, year over year.”