The USFL's Success and Brand Impact
By: Nickolaus Stringfellow
Before sprinting his way into an NFL Pro Bowl appearance with the Dallas Cowboys, KaVontae Turpin hampered a college career in Fort Worth, Texas. He was released from TCU in 2018 after multiple arrests for assault. With pathways to the NFL vanishing for Turpin, the revival of the USFL created an opportunity that led back to touchdowns in professional football.
FOX Sports and USFL Co-Founder, Brian Woods, began the 2022 USFL season after the NFL season and March Madness. With over $150 million in cash investment from FOX, Woods’ extensive league management career, and three-time Super Bowl champion Daryl Johnston as Executive VP, a successful football spirit surrounded the organization’s front office.
Turpin led the 2022 USFL season in receiving yards, an impressive stat in a league consisting of former professional and college stars. What he and every other player had to rely on besides game stats were the abilities of the USFL to get scouts, NFL staff, and the rest of America to even see them play.
The 2022 USFL season began with an average viewership rating of 0.9 and over 1.5 million viewers. The season’s championship game brought an influx of viewers to a 1.8 million peak. The crucial element to the USFL’s viewership is the concentration of viewers towards each game. For the first 7 matchups, the league played solely in Alabama and with no more than one game at a time. This simulated a magnifying glass on each game, play, and playmaker. For the 2023 season, the USFL has announced several more game locations, including Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions, as a playing location for the 2023 USFL season.
Being one of the only non-NFL affiliates to finish a professional football season and begin another professional football season means the ceiling for the USFL and its stakeholders is shifting upward.
With 15 former USFL players currently on NFL teams, there is a clear intention from the USFL to occupy a separate space from the NFL. There is an opportunity for more brands to be the face of the USFL, helping refine the league’s identity in the same way brands like Bud Light, Pepsi, FedEx, and Visa have done for the NFL. These partnerships will be crucial in pioneering and solidifying a place in the USFL’s stock early in its growth.
Sponsors building relationships with USFL players seek to exploit this under-marketed sports landscape. The brands sponsoring the underdog, the idea of a player fighting for an NFL spot with the help of new sports beverages, or performance gear is the story many emerging or established brands may want to tell. The USFL audience consists of passionate football fans, blue collar workers and aspirational youth players, all who want to see something novel in the football landscape be successful. Brands who coincide with any of these values have chances here to highlight the ideals of the hard worker and advertise in a space that functions on passion rather than glamor.
During the 2023 USFL season, keen eyes will be on the billboards, commercials, and social media posts affiliated with USFL athletes as the credibility of the league is fueled. The sports marketing landscape is attentive and will not want to blink during the USFL season waiting on the next KaVontae Turpin comeback story and the potential ad made about it.