The USFL is approaching the midway point of its regular season this week.
But, is the league already losing steam with Michigan sports bettors?
According to oddsmakers, the league isn’t drawing much interest at the betting window. Can it rebound over the next month?
USFL’s positive start fades quickly at Michigan sportsbooks
There was some initial intrigue in the USFL, especially here in Michigan.
With the state being represented by one of the eight teams, the Michigan Panthers, it garnered some extra interest.
According to Caesars Sportsbook MI, the Panthers’ season opener with the Houston Gamblers on April 17 was their most-bet on USFL game of the season in Michigan. That game drew 68% more wagers than any other USFL game this season.
However, the overall betting on the league has been lessening and not making a big dent nationally.
For Caesars, the USFL has accounted for just 0.4% of all wagers in the state of Michigan since April 16.
PointsBet Sportsbook MI indicated that the USFL is not finding much of a betting home, likening the action to what it gets with WNBA betting. However, PointsBet indicated trends are rising for WNBA while USFL’s are declining.
BetMGM Michigan is still seeing a level of interest in USFL betting, but has it taking a big back seat to the current NBA and NHL playoffs.
Sportsbooks indicated the lack of roster knowledge, reliable injury reports and trends as reasons that could be causing low betting numbers.
USFL TV audience plateaus in recent weeks
One good thing the USFL has had going for it is committed exposure from high-profile networks.
All games have aired live on nationally on either FOX or NBC’s variety of channels and streaming platforms.
The season opener was aired on Saturday, April 16, on both FOX and NBC in a simulcast effort. The game featured the Birmingham Stallions and the New Jersey Generals.
According to Programming Insider, the game drew a combined average of 2.95 million viewers. It also had a 0.4 rating in the 18-49 demographic.
Similarly, ABC’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs that night drew an average of 2.76 million viewers with a 0.8 rating in the 18-49 demo.
Michigan’s opener with the Gamblers that aired on NBC on April 17 had 2.153 million viewers and a 0.69 rating.
In the weeks to follow, ratings have dropped and somewhat plateaued.
- Week 2 saw a top viewing of Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh on FOX on Saturday, April 23. It had 1.056 million viewers with a 0.34 rating. Michigan’s game with New Jersey on April 22 on USA had just 363,000 viewers and a 0.12 rating.
- In Week 3, Birmingham and New Orleans played on FOX on April 30. The game drew 1.144 million viewers with a 0.22 rating. Michigan’s game with Pittsburgh on USA on May 1 had 292,000 viewers and a 0.05 rating.
- Week 4’s most-viewed game was Sunday’s Houston vs. New Orleans game on NBC. It drew 1.159 million viewers. Michigan’s game with Philadelphia on Friday night drew 207,000 viewers and had a 0.04 rating.
Similar trend to past leagues
Not surprisingly, the USFL appears to be following in the footsteps of past leagues that tried to launch in recent years during the NFL’s offseason.
The XFL attempted a relaunch in 2020 that was derailed midseason by the pandemic.
It drew 3.3 million viewers in its season opener, but had dropped down to an average of below 1 million by Week 5.
The Alliance of American Football attempted an inaugural season in 2019 but filed for bankruptcy midway through the debut season.
Its AAF kickoff game on CBS drew 2.9 million viewers in February of 2019. By Week 4, the league was averaging just 425,000 viewers while airing on the NFL Network.
Panthers off to slow start
Michigan football fans had some reasons to be excited about the USFL relaunching.
The Panthers actually came into the season as one of the favorites to win the league.
However, the team is just 1-3 through four games. The Panthers now find themselves amongst teams with the longest odds to win the inaugural championship.
Jeff Fisher’s squad has allowed the fewest points in the league thus far (53), but is averaging just 16.8 points per game offensively.
The lack of offense is becoming an issue for the league. During its opening week, oddsmakers listed totals around 43 points for each game. Heading into Week 5, totals are topping out at just 37 points.
Currently, a combined average of 38.1 points are being scored per game in this league.
In-state football fans may be lacking in interest in the Panthers due to the league playing all its games in Birmingham, Ala. The team has no real connection to the state outside of its name.
Attendance numbers have been very poor for that reason leaguewide. While more than 17,000 attended the league’s kickoff game, recent contests feature close to no fans.