Football in the spring and summer months is about to look a whole lot different — here’s what you need to know about this week’s landmark XFL-USFL merger pledge.
On May 13, Bob Stoops’ Arlington Renegades capped an improbable campaign with an XFL title in the first season of the football league’s rebranded era under the ownership trio of Dany Garcia, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Gerry Cardinale of private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners.
On July 1, the Birmingham Stallions won their second straight USFL Championship cementing their status as top dogs in the springtime football league that revived operations in 2022.
Those turned out to be the last seasons for both leagues — at least as we currently know them.
According to a Sept. 19 report from Axios, the two leagues were in the “advanced” stages of negotiations over joining forces as one. On Sept. 28, the intent to do so became official in a statement from the USFL to its players:
The XFL duly confirmed their own intent shortly after:
All told, the impact of the news promises to touch not just the football itself, but media rights, athlete compensation, ownership structure, and even the NFL — here’s what you need to know about the mutually intended XFL-USFL merger.
Key Details on the XFL-USFL Merger
Pending regulatory approval, both leagues are understood to favor a deal that combines their operations before the start of the 2024 season.
Who owns the new league, who runs it, and what’s it called?
Excellent question! Rupert Murdoch’s Fox empire fully owns the USFL — Fox, alongside NBC, is also one of the league’s two broadcast partners — with Daryl “Moose” Johnston heading the day-to-day as president. The aforementioned Brahma Bull, Garcia, and RedBird’s Cardinale co-own the XFL; Garcia serves as commissioner.
The potential for a game of musical chairs in the executive suite would be intriguing to witness. For now, the Axios report anticipates that the partners have an equal stake in a merger agreement.
As for what we call the thing, well, we could be in for some all-new branding.
BREAKING: The #USFL and #XFL are currently pursuing a new league name in regards to their merger discussions, confirmed by multiple sources.— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) September 21, 2023
Major development to watch closely. If the XFL-USFL merger goes through, it is extremely likely that we see an entirely new brand.
UPDATE 10/16: As noted by trademark attorney Josh Gerben, the XFL filed for 22 trademarks on Oct. 10, 2023 for “United Football League” and “UFL.”
How much will the players get paid and where do they play?
First thing’s first — the two leagues did not have identical pay structures in 2023:
- XFL: Base player salary of $59,000, including $5,000 per game, a $1,000 bonus per win, and a benefits package worth approximately $20,000 for the season. Click here for the full details.
- USFL: Base player salary of $53,500, including $5,350 per week, a $5,000 one-time bonus for members of the championship team, and upwards of $550 in benefits per week ($150 for retirement savings, $400 for room and board). Click here for the full details.
So, what’s the throughline here that reconciles both of these models? No, they’re not entirely dissimilar, but this is a major question that will need answering. Ideally, a combined operation means more revenue opportunities that can be passed onto the athletes, but it’s too early to say definitively.
Further, the USFL’s eight teams were all ostensibly attached to a home city in 2023, but actually played out of one of four hub cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Canton, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Memphis, Tennessee. None of the XFL’s eight teams shared home venues, which stretched as far east as Washington, DC and as far west as Las Vegas.
And on that note:
Developing: Regarding a USFL-XFL merger, it is likely that we do not see all 16 teams in action, per source.— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) September 20, 2023
Hearing that organizations without venues currently secured are in hot water. Something to keep a close eye on, more details coming soon.
TV and streaming rights
Contrasting with the USFL’s combined media rights deal with Fox and NBC, the XFL existed exclusively on Disney-owned platforms, including ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and FX. Does the sprawling nature of this landscape mean that everyone still gets a piece, or
Looking a bit closer, note that with the exception of FX, every one of these networks already carries NFL games. Why is that important? Well…
How Will the NFL be involved?
Ah, perhaps the most fascinating question of all!
Sure, no league could ever dream of challenging the NFL on its own calendar, but the Shield is so monolithic and all-consuming that for decades, no league has ever been able to survive even as an offseason complement to it. Not the old Vince McMahon XFL or the revived 2020 version cut short by COVID-19 lockdowns. Not the old USFL, the AAF, the UFL, or the AAFL. It’s perhaps already a small miracle that these two merger partners in question made it through an entire season and lived to tell about it.
Only one of them, however, has any formal relationship with the NFL. Spoiler alert: it’s the one with The Rock. The NFL treats the XFL as a staging area for testing out new rules, including the innovative wrinkle that allows a team to attempt to convert a 4th & 15 in the fourth quarter of games in order to retain possession of the ball in lieu of an onside kick. More importantly, the leagues have partnered on health and safety initiatives and talent — a main reason for the XFL season ending in mid-May was to make it easier for players to move directly to NFL practice squads in time for offseason workouts.
The USFL has no such relationship as of this time, but Johnston hasn’t shied away from expressing openness to it.
That bridge to the big time might just be the key to keeping this whole venture afloat for the long haul where all other comers had failed.
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