Sep 19, 2023 - Economy & Business

Scoop: Football leagues XFL and USFL in merger talks

XFL owner Dwayne Johnson talks before the Arlington Renegades and the Vegas Vipers XFL game. Photo: Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Pro football leagues XFL and USFL are in advanced talks to merge, three sources familiar with the situation tell Axios.

Why it matters: Combining the two may be the smartest path forward for the leagues given the challenges and the history of failure for NFL alternatives.

Details: The merger would be structured as a merger of equals and would require regulatory approval, one of the sources said. The leagues hope to combine before the 2024 seasons.

  • Fox Corp. owns the USFL, while the XFL is owned by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, his business partner Dany Garcia, and RedBird Capital Partners.
  • Game broadcasts of the combined league are likely to be split between Fox and XFL media partner Disney, according to the source. The USFL also has a broadcast agreement with NBC, although it's not yet been determined if that will continue.
  • An announcement of the deal could come as early as this week.

The big picture: Non-NFL pro football leagues have mostly failed to catch on with fans, despite several attempts.

  • The original USFL was a competitor with the NFL for talent and managed to lure future stars like Herschel Walker and Steve Young.
  • More have come and gone, including the Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2019.
  • The longest-running spring football league was from the NFL itself with NFL Europe, which served as a developmental league from 1989 to 2007. The league shuttered it in favor of staging their own games overseas.

By the numbers: Fox executives have previously said the USFL has been profitable and had planned to invest more into spring football, while the XFL lost $60 million for its first season under Johnson, Forbes reported.

  • Viewership for XFL and USFL games was meager, with each league averaging north of 600,000 viewers for each game. The USFL's championship game drew 1.2 million viewers, while the XFL attracted 1.4 million for its season-ender.

Catch up quick: The original XFL was launched by WWE's Vince McMahon in 2001 but lasted just one season. McMahon brought back a revamped version of the league in 2020, but it was shuttered by the pandemic midway through its debut season.

  • Johnson, Garcia and RedBird then bought the league out of bankruptcy later that year for $15 million and relaunched it for a second time this past spring. Dozens of players from their XFL have since been signed to NFL team contracts.
  • The original edition of the USFL, meanwhile, ran for three seasons in the 1980s and was a rival for talent with the NFL. It folded in 1985.
  • Fox launched a new version of the league in 2022. It owns the USFL via National Spring Football League Enterprises Co, a subsidiary of Fox Sports.

What they're saying: ""We will not comment on rumors and speculation," the XFL said in an emailed statement. Fox did not immediately return a request for comment.

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect XFL's comment.

Go deeper