The USFL debuted on Saturday night, commandeering a pair of three-letter networks and a major streaming platform. This exposure resulted, according to USFL projections, in total audience of three million for the match between the generals and the stallions.
The expected number, according to the USFL, peaked at nearly 3.5 million as of 10:45 p.m. ET.
By comparison, the AAF pulled in 2.9 million for its CBS debut on a Saturday night in 2019. The XFL debut in 2019 racked up 3.3 million on a Saturday afternoon in 2020.
There are three points to consider. First, the AAF and XFL Week One contests only aired on one major network, not two. Second, how would the other programs in those spots have done? Third, these are USFL projections, not official numbers from anyone or where the currently accepted official numbers come from. As the world continues to shift and change viewing habits and devices, it’s apparently becoming much more difficult than before to track reliable numbers.
Whatever measurement is used, whatever form it takes, and whether numbers from any source ever reflect the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about actual audience measurements, the question is whether people will continue to watch the USFL. Sunday’s three-pack on NBC, USA and FS1 was delayed by around an hour by weather, and footage from Birmingham repeatedly showed a complete and utter lack of fans in the stands.
For any alternative football league, it becomes much more difficult to persuade people to watch it on TV when they see that few people near the event have bothered to show up to watch it in person. Whether the solution is to donate tickets, food, donate both, refrain from showing images of empty seats, or play the games in a venue without a grandstand, the impact of large swathes of nothing can be ignored.