Every startup football league, going all the way back to the XFL's shockingly big opening weekend in 2001, gets a surprising amount of viewers.
The reboot of the USFL did pretty well too, as expected. According to TheTVRatingsGuide.com, the USFL's first game on Saturday night did 2.95 million viewers. The New Jersey Generals-Birmingham Stallions game was broadcast on NBC and Fox. It did 1.52 million on NBC and 1.43 million on Fox.
That's a big day for the new league, especially going up against the first weekend of the NBA playoffs.
The new USFL kicked off Saturday night in a historic simulcast on FOX and NBC – delivering a projected 3 million viewers across the networks and their streaming platforms.
The @USFLStallions victory over the @USFLGenerals peaked with nearly 3.5 million viewers at 10:45 PM ET. pic.twitter.com/fIFDiBAfrB
— USFL (@USFL) April 17, 2022
The USFL now has to figure out how to keep that momentum going. Other leagues haven't been so lucky.
USFL's first game posts solid ratings
Fox Sports executive vice president Michael Mulvihill put the USFL's opening night overnight rating into some perspective.
Major market overnight ratings for Sat 4/16:
Nuggets-Warriors - 2.8
Raptors-Sixers - 2.1
Twolves-Grizzlies - 1.9
USFL Generals-Stallions - 1.7
Jazz-Mavericks - 1.4
PGA 3rd Round - 1.2
UFC - 0.7
NASCAR Trucks - 0.6
NHL - 0.5
— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) April 17, 2022
That has to be considered a positive. The total viewers were about what the reboot of the XFL in 2020 and the Alliance of American Football in 2019 did for their opening weekends.
Neither of those leagues survived. A lack of funding wrecked the AAF. The XFL didn't make it through a season due in large part to COVID-19.
The USFL has the backing of Fox, which reportedly is committing $150 million to the league for its first three years. That will help as the league tries to get a foothold.
USFL's second day has challenges
That Generals-Stallions game was a fun one, with the Generals taking a late lead and the Stallions going all the way downfield for a game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
On day two, which was Easter Sunday, everyone seemed to notice there were very few fans in the stands.
— Coach Five (@coachmartin555) April 17, 2022
— CRSorcaman (@CSorcaman) April 17, 2022
The eight-team league is hosting all of its games in Birmingham, which keeps travel costs down for the first-year league. That might not be great for attendance, but building a television audience is a bigger priority in 2022.
Bad weather didn't help the USFL on Sunday. Games were delayed due to rain and lightning. The Pittsburgh Maulers-Tampa Bay Bandits game was rescheduled to Monday night due to weather.
The reaction to the new league seemed mixed. Some enjoyed the quality of play, though kicking was rough and quarterback play was uneven. Some of the technology, like more players being mic'ed up, a second Skycam, helmet cams and drone angles went over pretty well (though some on social media thought the drone angles were disorienting).
Still not over our incredible drone angles 🤩🎥pic.twitter.com/hKrLwWxEck
— USFL (@USFL) April 17, 2022
Overall it seemed like a decent first weekend for the new league, though it's not the first league to open with some optimism. Keeping some of those viewers from the first night is the challenge the USFL has to win.