UFL attendance gets off to so-so start

The NFL had a blackout rule for decades because it wanted televised games to look like a big deal with images of full stands. The inverse is also true; empty stands will make it harder for fans at home to feel compelled to watch.

That's been one of the challenges of spring football in recent years, from the AAF in 2019 to the XFL in 2020 to the USFL in 2022 and 2023 to the XFL in 2023. Although there have been some exceptions (such as St. Louis, which has embraced the Battlehawks in part as a middle finger to the NFL and the Rams), most of the games have noticeably sparse attendance. Many have large swaths of empty seats in the lower level of the venue.

Yesterday, the UFL's debut had so-so attendance, to no surprise. Via Mike Mitchell of, the opening game between the Birmingham Stallions and the Arlington Renegade attracted 14,153 fans. The second game, featuring the Michigan Panthers hosting the St. Louis Battlehawks, drew 9,444 to Ford Field.

It would have made more sense to have the Battlehawks play at home, frankly. They would have drawn a much larger crowd out of the gates, which could have helped create some early momentum. Regardless, these are the numbers that leagues like this generate. The best strategy would be to play in small stadiums with limited capacity, if only to avoid shots of empty stands. Because nothing says "who cares?" like big chunks of plastic seats with no butts in them.

The other piece of the puzzle will be the ratings. Fox had two games yesterday. ESPN will have a doubleheader today. It's not exactly an ideal weekend to make a dent in the Nielsen numbers, which is another piece of constructive criticism for spring football leagues that are already facing strong headwinds. Put more bluntly, why start this weekend, with the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournament in the process of forging its final four, and with baseball back in full bloom?

While it's not impossible to start quietly and build momentum, it's always better to come out of the gates with a bang. The UFL, a brand-new brand which opted to eschew the more established "XFL" and "USFL" labels, needs a bigger bang if it's ever going to make enough bucks to last.