Are you ready for some football?
News item: “A ticket to the USFL Championship Game is on the line as the Pittsburgh Maulers battle the Michigan Panthers in Canton, Ohio, this Saturday. How will this war between two 4-6 teams shake out?”
Las Vegas odds-makers say “Nobody Gives a Crap” is the favorite, but “Who Could Care Less” could surprise us.
If you’re looking to bet on the USFL North Division title game between two 4-6 teams, trust me: You have a gambling problem. Call now, operators are standing by.
To be honest, I kind of forgot that the USFL had re-launched in 2022. (Yes, it’s now in its second thrill-packed season). And so did almost everyone else.
Although official attendance figures are hard to find, most of the fans seem to be disguised as empty seats. Here’s a screenshot of a game between your Pittsburgh Maulers and the Philadelphia … uh … wait … let me Google it … Stars:
The Philadelphia Stars play their home games in Detroit, at the NFL’s Ford Field. Although the statue of Billy Penn casts a long shadow in the City of Brotherly Love, it doesn’t quite reach the state of Michigan. Meanwhile, the Maulers play their home games just a little bit outside of the Golden Triangle in that well-known Pittsburgh neighborhood, Canton, Ohio.
Which is clearly one of the major, major problems with the USFL. At least this season’s games are being played at different locations around the country. During the first season, all of the regular games were played in Birmingham, Ala.
It almost begs the question: Why bother naming the teams after cities where they don’t actually play or have fans?
A cynic would say “to sell team merchandise in those cities,” but given the almost non-existent fan base, they probably could have sold just as much Pittsburgh Maulers logo merchandise without bothering to have a team at all.
This is the second incarnation of the USFL Maulers, of course. The first version of the Pittsburgh Maulers, which lasted only one season (1983-84), played at Three Rivers Stadium (also the home of the Steelers in those days) and was part of the original United States Football League.
The original USFL started out playing its games in the springtime, but the league folded, in part, due to bad business decisions forced onto the other teams by the majority owner of the New Jersey Generals.
Among other things, the New Jersey Generals’ owner convinced the league he could pressure the National Football League into a merger if the USFL moved its games from the spring to the fall; then the USFL sued the NFL for alleged anti-trust violations, in part because USFL teams were unable to use NFL stadiums.
Spoiler alert: The gambit didn’t work and the USFL collapsed after the 1985 season.
The majority owner of the New Jersey Generals was a real estate developer named D.J. Trump, and after that debacle, of course, no one ever listened to his ignorant advice and he was never heard from again.
The new USFL is owned in part by Fox Corporation, well-known purveyor of fine quality news programming.
Another obvious problem for the new USFL is that it’s not the only U.S. professional football league that’s playing its regular season in the spring. The XFL (founded in 2018) is also still around, and TV ratings show that the two competing leagues are more or less cannibalizing each other’s already meager audiences.
During Week 1 of this year’s USFL season, the league averaged about 784,000 viewers per game. XFL games drew between 285,000 and 878,000 viewers.
By comparison, the NFL draws about 20 million viewers per game every Sunday night. Hell, on Sunday nights, “60 Minutes” averages 9.1 million viewers. (Yet hardly anyone bets on the outcome of “60 Minutes.” Besides, their team merchandise looks like crap.)
What I’m saying is that the USFL isn’t drawing people to stadiums — or viewers to TVs, either. If there’s a reason for its existence, it’s lost on me.
Anyway, I had a point to all of this, but I forget what it was. Oh, yes, I remember: Believe it or not, the USFL is still a thing, and plenty of good seats are still available for this Saturday’s championship game in Canton, Ohio. In fact, this entire rant was prompted by an ad I received on Facebook this morning for USFL tickets. As of this writing, for $50, you could sit in the second row at the 50-yard line.
If you’re betting, I’d take the Maulers by 3 points. And I think the total passing yardage will be just a little lower than the attendance.