COLUMN: USFL players, fans secure bragging rights with Saturday victories over XFL teams

XFL versus USFL

If you thought the rhetoric between USFL and XFL fans would be tamped down by the merger of the two leagues into the UFL, week one proved that won’t be the case anytime soon.

In the two head-to-head matchups between teams from those leagues, the USFL came out on top in both. After the USFL champion Birmingham Stallions disposed of the XFL champion Arlington Renegades, Stallions players even took to social media to boast of their dominance – and to deliver receipts.

This is the outcome the UFL wanted, after all. The advertising of the league in television commercials was all about the merger of the XFL and USFL to make spring football stronger. Despite no longer existing as individual entities, the ads focused on them coming together to spawn the UFL, rather than trying to create a UFL identity on its own.

Ownership created separate XFL and USFL conferences, allowing the leagues to live on in that way. The inaugural UFL championship will be contested between a team from each conference (two teams from each will make the playoffs instead of the once-rumored four teams with the best records), ensuring that the battle will rage on for the duration of the season.

Then, they put the Stallions vs. Renegades on as the first game of the season. It was a smart play from a marketing standpoint to try to get football fans to sample the new league, but it was also strategic in continuing the competition between the leagues. On Monday, the @xfl2023 Twitter/X handle (now run by the UFL) put up a graphic indicating they’ll be keeping track of the XFL vs. USFL inter-conference win totals during the season.

Without a distinct identity of its own yet, it’s not a bad idea to lean into the USFL vs. XFL rivalry. However, all that does is lead to people who were already spring football fans to dig their heels in a little deeper on their side of the fence.

What it doesn’t do is provide ease of access for new fans to check out the league. If they don’t have a dog in the USFL vs. XFL fight, and so much of the conversation from a league and online perspective is just that, where does that leave the room to fit in?

Based on the ratings, attendance, and general interest in both the USFL and XFL from the past two years, the UFL will desperately need that new audience for it to survive into the future.

If potential fans go on social media and see the constant flame wars continue between these two fanbases, how likely are they to want to wade into that territory? Some may enjoy the banter and be attracted to it; it is social media after all. That kind of tribalism is somewhat baked-in to these sites at this point.

Others may just want to support the UFL and find the conversation lacking in that regard, especially if they don’t identify with either one of the two groups.

The same tribalism is occurring in my other writing job, covering professional wrestling. The online discourse has become so toxic between those that identify as WWE diehards and those who are AEW stans that simply by posting about one or the other, you’re inviting the opponents to rail against the company in your mentions. The hope is that doesn’t infect the discussion around the UFL.

The goal of the UFL at some point should be to move away from spotlighting XFL vs. USFL and instead cultivate interest in the league as its own brand. In the Memphis Showboats and D.C. Defenders as UFL teams rather than USFL or XFL teams. In Jace Sternberger and A.J. McCarron as UFL players instead of USFL or XFL players.

In reality, the UFL as an actual entity is only about three months old. That’s not enough time to forge an identity of one’s own beyond “yet another spring football league.” Therefore, they’ve relied on the more well-known USFL and XFL monikers to carry the day.

That’s fine. For now. Eventually, the UFL needs to stand for something more than the merger of two spring football leagues that struggled to survive on their own. And fans – and players – need to understand that the continued tribalism, while fun for now, may wear out others in the long run who just want to enjoy watching spring football played at its highest level.

2 thoughts on “COLUMN: USFL players, fans secure bragging rights with Saturday victories over XFL teams”

  1. Thanks for clarifying the playoff being top 2 in the division and NOT as originally rumored.

    As far as the USFL v XFL – I think its for fun and it will hopefully stay. Hey look they could have used XFL or USFL as the league name but didn’t. The UFL name was a risk, and reminding the viewers … nah this isn’t ANOTHER new league its just the XFL and USFL combined is wise IMO. Both leagues have recent history and legacy history its all good. The “rivalry” is a net positive and creates buzz. I think we roll with it and have fun.


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