USFL draws 17,500 fans for opening night, considerably fewer for the next day’s games

USA TODAY Sports

Another year, another spring football league. Although the two most recent efforts had very different reasons for their rapid demises (the AAF spent much more money than it made, and XFL 2.0 was taken down by the pandemic), the past four decades are littered with periodic spring-football failures.

Enter the USFL. Not the original USFL, but a new iteration that (for now) is using the names of eight teams that played under the four-letter banner in the 1980s. Owned by Fox and televised by Fox and NBC, it seems to be a made-for-TV operation — one that hopes to capitalize on the ongoing spread of legalized gambling.

It’s definitely not made for in-person attendance. Via WBRC.com, roughly 40,000 tickets were sold or distributed for Saturday night’s game. However, the actual attendance was in the neighborhood of 17,500.

That’s not the best way to launch a new league. All regular-season games will be played in Birmingham (a city of more than 200,000), and only 17,500 showed up or the inaugural game, featuring the one team that carries the Birmingham name.

It got worse on Sunday, when the vast majority of the seats were empty for a doubleheader. It becomes very difficult to get fans to watch a spectator sport that has no in-person spectators. Give away tickets. Give away food. Do whatever has to be done to make it feel like a big deal on TV. That’s what will get the TV audience to regard it as a big deal and either tune in or stay tuned in.

That’s why the NFL clung to the blackout rule for so long. It refused to televise a game locally if the game wasn’t sold out at least 48 hours before kickoff. The league wants human beings to serve as the background images for games. The more people present, the more important the game seems.

The inverse is definitely true. If no one is in the stands, it becomes much harder to get fans to care. Thus, as the powers-that-be gather to break down the first weekend of the new USFL, the No. 1 challenge should be obvious.

Come up with a way to get a lot more people to show up for the games.

14 responses to “USFL draws 17,500 fans for opening night, considerably fewer for the next day’s games

  1. I literally saw about 100 fans in the stands at the Philadelphia/New Orleans game.

  2. I don’t see how anyone thought it was feasible to play an entire leagues worth of games in one city. There might be people who would go see these games and you might be able to build a fanbase but it has to be a traveling act, one city cannot support an entire league.

  3. 17k isn’t bad considering, but Sunday was not good. Don’t know who thought Alabama was a good idea though?

  4. Can avoid showing the empty seats on broadcast, and emulate the nfl tactic of fake crowd noise. Can even add the most annoying foghorn and tolling bells sounds the nfl coverage insists on shoving in our ears.

  5. I get cutting down on travel but you can’t play all the games in one city and pretend other teams represent other regions. This is a city league that they are trying to sell as a national one. Can’t grow fans if you don’t ever come to their place to play.

    Also don’t do this on the weekends. People are busy on the weekends in the spring and summer. They aren’t going to dedicate time for a 2nd rate football league. There isn’t much going on Monday and Tuesday in the summer.

  6. Easter and Passover weekend……let’s reserve judgement till week 6 or 7.

  7. You do realize that the weather was terrible in the area yesterday and the late game was even postponed.

  8. Seems everyone thinks Easter Sunday was the reason for the light turnout on Sunday. I wonder why that didn’t affect any baseball games? And besides, there was the weather delay that had lightning.
    At any rate, it’s a joke that people think Birmingham was so eager & hungry for pro football.

  9. Keep tuning in America. The USFL has been great. Hard fought, competitive games. I am sure the holiday weekend had an impact on the fans in the stands. Over the long-term, the league will be great and will thrive!!

  10. This never made any sense to me. I don’t care if anyone is in the stands. I don’t watch crowds, I watch football. I don’t care about someone there watching live, I watch on TV for the football.

  11. I think the USFL wanted to play in 22 in order to get one up on the XFL which isn’t playing until 23. The USFL starting a year sooner gives them a huge advantage. The trade off was that they didn’t have time to secure stadium leases and ramp up in 8 different cities.

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