The USFL: Will the New League Last?


Riley Sanderson

A pamphlet for the 1984 Philadelphia Stars by cartoonist Jack Davis.


The return of the United States Football League on Fox has recently brought about feelings of nostalgia as well as many questions in the football world. 

The original USFL played for only three seasons from 1983-1985 before the league’s untimely demise in 1986. The seasons were played in the spring and summer when the NFL and college football seasons were over. In early 1986, team owners led by the New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump voted to move the 1986 season to the fall and directly compete with the NFL to potentially force a merger between the two leagues. 

Unfortunately, the USFL’s business decision couldn’t realistically play out considering its amount of financial baggage. Most of the franchises had issues with money from the start of the league and experienced problems getting leases for stadiums also used by the NFL. Additionally, the lack of funding caused insufficient player salaries as well as multiple mergers and relocations of franchises.

In 1986, just before the projected fall season, the USFL sued the NFL for “violating anti-monopoly laws.” Despite the league’s victory in the lawsuit, the USFL ended up winning only $3. Overall, the United States Football League had lost over $163 million by 1986 with the lawsuit ending its long financial struggle. 

With the new USFL in 2022, 8 of the original 18 team names were announced to play in the new season. The Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, and Pittsburgh Maulers will make up the North division and the Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers, and Tampa Bay Bandits will be in the South division. 

The USFL will be one of three football leagues in recent years to make an attempt at indirectly competing with the NFL. For example, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) was founded in 2018 but failed to complete its first season due to financial issues. Additionally, the XFL failed after one season in 2001 and rebooted in 2020 for a partial season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The XFL was bought by Dwayne Johnson and is expected to return in early 2023. This spring, it will be determined if the USFL will be the breakthrough league that has a chance at being consistent or if it will follow the trend of bankruptcy and low popularity.

The USFL draft occurred on February 22-23 and 280 players were selected to fill the rosters of the 8 teams in 35 rounds. The first pick was quarterback Shea Patterson, a University of Michigan alum and former signee for the Kansas City Chiefs. Most of the picks have been involved with NFL teams in the past, so these players undoubtedly have the athletic talent to kick off the start of the new USFL. 

However, the owners of the original USFL recently sued FOX Sports for trademark infringement, false advertising, and false association. According to the original owners, they never gave FOX permission to use the logo and 8 team names from the 80s. They also accused FOX of “trading on the false narrative” that the new USFL is a reboot of the original one. A representative of FOX responded, saying that “the new USFL registered its intellectual property rights in 2011,” and that the first games of the new season will proceed on April 16th.