Back in the USFL: Fox to Broadcast Revived 1980s Football League

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The United States Football League—a 1980s gridiron experiment famous for Herschel Walker, Steve Young, Reggie White and, yes, Donald Trump—is being resurrected and will begin play in the spring of 2022, with games on Fox Sports.

The new USFL announced the plan today, promising a minimum of eight teams, at least a few of them with original team names that harken back to the heyday of hair metal and the Soviet Union. Just which names will be making a comeback—where have you gone Pittsburgh Maulers, Memphis Showboats and Oklahoma Outlaws?—was not disclosed in the league’s press announcement.

Brian Woods, founder and CEO of The Spring League, is the co-founder of the new USFL. Fox Sports, in addition to serving as the nascent league’s official broadcast partner, also owns a minority equity stake in the venture.

“I’m extremely passionate about football and the opportunity to work with FOX Sports, and to bring back the USFL in 2022 was an endeavor worth pursuing,” Woods said in a press release, touting the league’s advent next spring. “We look forward to providing players a new opportunity to compete in a professional football league and giving fans everywhere the best football viewing product possible during what is typically a period devoid of professional football.”

Launched in 1983, the original USFL made a splash by signing big-name talent. Aside from Walker, Young and White, rosters included Heisman Trophy winners Mike Rozier and Doug Flutie, as well as future Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly.

It also had TV contracts with ABC and ESPN, and at least one flamboyant executive in Trump, who owned the New Jersey Generals, the team that featured Walker. But the league struggled financially almost from the beginning, and shuttered in 1986 after an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL failed to deliver a massive judgment in the USFL’s favor.

Spring football leagues continue to entice entrepreneurs and investors. Woods’ Spring League, started in 2017, has outlasted the Alliance of American Football, which only made it through eight weeks of a planned 10-week inaugural season in 2019. The XFL, founded by WWE head Vince McMahon, played a spring schedule in 2020 before folding at the onset of the pandemic. That was the second incarnation of the league. The first XFL played a single season, in 2001, before collapsing. A third iteration of the XFL is being planned after Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his ex-wife and business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital chief executive Gerry Cardinale bought the league from McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment last year.

Prior to the XFL, the World League of American Football, later renamed NFL Europe, was an NFL-supported developmental league that played a spring schedule, with teams in places like Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam, London and Birmingham, Alabama. It operated between 1991 and 2007.

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