What is the UFL? – Everything You Need To Know About the United Football League

The United Football League (UFL), a professional spring football organization with eight teams, begins its inaugural season at the end of March 2024. Keep reading for all the details on the teams, tickets, TV schedules, and the players you might already recognize.

What is the UFL?

The UFL is a merger of XFL and USFL that was approved by federal regulators in November, 2023.

The United Football League is the new pro football league, scheduled to be played in the spring and early summer.

Spring football has long been considered an untapped market for US professional football fans. There have been several attempts to make it work, including during the 1980s when big names such as Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie and even former US president Donald Trump were among the leading discussion points.

That league was the United States Football League (USFL), which was unable to be sustained following the 1985 season.

The USFL returned and competed in 2022 and 2023. A rival league, the XFL, tried many outside-the-box ideas in its 2001 season under World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) leadership.

With those leagues merging, the UFL is taking the best from each and hoping for a successful run.

United Football League - UFL
Image: UFL

What Happened to the XFL and USFL?

The XFL was conceived and led by WWE head Vince McMahon and played its first season in 2001 but shut down before a second season could begin.

It was revived by McMahon in 2018 to begin play in 2020 and ostensibly to produce football with fewer distractions and delays than what was being offered by the NFL.

The seasons were planned to run from February to May, a 10-game regular season followed by the playoffs.

After five weeks, however, the COVID-19 pandemic ended any shot at success. The league filed for bankruptcy in April 2020.

Actor and former player Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stepped in and, along with business partner and ex-wife Dany Garcia, led a consortium to buy the XFL for a reported $15 million.

The XFL began play again in February 2023 as a football minor league. In late September 2023, it announced plans to merge with the USFL.

The Original USFL

The first version of the USFL, the original United States Football League, had star power to rival the NFL, but a fateful decision led to its undoing.

Three Heisman Trophy winners in a row – Georgia’s Herschel Walker (1982), Nebraska’s Mike Rozier (1983) and Boston College’s Doug Flutie (1984) – signed with the USFL rather than joining the NFL.

The USFL played three seasons during the spring and summer, 1983-85, but decided to try to take on the NFL.

Led by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump, a vote was taken and a decision was made to play the 1986 season in the fall – directly competing with the NFL.

The main hope for the USFL stakeholders was to force a merger with the NFL. As the USFL legal teams went through the process of the court fight, they filed an antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986.

The USFL won, technically, but was awarded only a $1 judgment that became $3 (tripled because it fell under antitrust laws).

There was no merger, nor was there a 1986 USFL season.

Overall, the venture was reported to have cost the USFL more than $160 million.

A reincarnation of the USFL, owned by Fox Sports, competed in 2022 and 2023 with its eight teams retaining the branding of its 1980s predecessor.

UFL Leadership

The present-day merger of the XFL and USFL organizations resulted in the appointment of Russ Brandon as UFL president and CEO.

Brandon is the former president and CEO of the XFL.

Former NFL running back Daryl Johnston, formerly the president of football operations for the USFL, will head football ops for the UFL.

Who Owns the UFL?

The ownership of the UFL is shared among five partners.

The first three, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale of RedBird Capital Partners, were XFL owners.

The other entities are Fox Sports, which owned the USFL and is led by Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks, and ESPN (chairman Jimmy Pitaro).

Johnson, still very much a football player at heart, explained the purpose of this grand venture via his statement:

“From day one, our mission has been to expand the game of football and be a league of opportunity, culture and innovation. As we come together to create the UFL, we can build something powerful, exciting and very cool for football fans — a spring league with lasting impact for all the players with a dream to play pro football and the ‘hardest workers in the room’ mentality to make their dreams come true.”

There is no doubting Johnson’s global appeal. He’s been dubbed (by his WWE bio) The Great One, The People’s Champion and The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment.

Hyperbole aside, Johnson has several significant cultural accomplishments that will serve the UFL to reach those outside the football sphere.

He’s an eight-time WWE champ, and among his credits are a host gig on Saturday Night Live, a New York Times bestseller (autobiography) and starring roles in the HBO series Ballers and feature films including Fast Five and The Game Plan.

UFL vs NFL: What’s the Difference?

The UFL and the NFL are different, and the UFL has made it clear it isn’t attempting to mimic the NFL.

The calendar splits the leagues, with the UFL beginning six weeks after the Super Bowl and ending in mid-June, leaving plenty of time for the NFL to once again dominate the US professional football media coverage.

The game itself will have several notable differences, too.

In the UFL, the ball will be placed at the 20-yard line for kickoffs; the NFL kickoffs are from the 35-yard line.

To reduce injuries, the NFL allows for a fair catch anywhere on the field resulting in the ball being placed at the 25-yard line of the receiving team.

At this time, there is not a definitive rule allowing fair catches, making kickoff returns a reality on virtually every kickoff.

The other not-so-subtle difference between the NFL and UFL is the extra point.

Teams will have three scrimmage play (run/pass) options following a touchdown.

  • 2-yard line = 1 point for a successful try
  • 5-yard line = 2 points for a successful try
  • 10-yard line = 3 points for a successful try

Other key differences — including the UFL’s allowing for TWO forward passes during a play — can be found in the UFL’s official rules, released in February 2024.

The UFL held a dispersal draft, making the players from the USFL and XFL rosters available for the UFL franchises.

Can NFL players also play in the UFL? No.

NFL players under contract to their teams cannot join a UFL team, but the UFL expects to provide myriad opportunities for its players to grab the attention of NFL player personnel executives.

Dallas Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey, who had a standout rookie season, was playing in the USFL in 2022.

On rosters currently are former NFL players Marquette King (Arlington Renegades), DJ Swearinger (DC Defenders) as well as son of Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, Kade (San Antonio Brahmas).

UFL Teams & 2024 Schedule

The UFL season begins Saturday, March 30, featuring a matchup of USFL and XFL champions from last season.

The Birmingham Stallions visit the Arlington Renegades in a game to be televised at 1 p.m. ET by Fox.

Also that Saturday is a game between the St. Louis Battlehawks and Michigan Panthers at Detroit’s Ford Field, 4 p.m. ET, Fox.

Sunday, March 31, the other four UFL teams begin play as the D.C. Defenders meet the San Antonio Brahmas at San Antonio’s Alamodome (noon ET, ESPN) and the Memphis Showboats visit the Houston Roughnecks at Houston’s Rice Stadium (3 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Season tickets are now available and single-game tickets will be available for presale starting February 20 and to the public February 22.

Ticket prices: A quick check at the ticket availability showed season tickets starting at between $19 and $25 per game for the five-game inaugural season.

UFL Season 2024
Image: Twitter/XFL2023

Schedule Details

  • 43 UFL games (40 regular season games, two Conference Championship games, one Championship game).
  • The League is divided into two conferences: USFL (Birmingham, Houston, Memphis, Michigan) and XFL (Arlington, D.C., San Antonio, St. Louis).
  • Each team will play six in-conference games and four interconference matchups.
  • The conference championships will pit the top two teams with the best records in their respective conferences against each other.

UFL Television

The 10-game regular-season schedule will be televised in the United States by Fox, Fox Sports 1, ABC, and ESPN.

According to the league, 72% of all UFL games will air on broadcast television (ABC or FOX) with the following distribution:

  • ABC – 10
  • FOX – 21
  • ESPN – 10
  • ESPN2 – 1
  • FS1 – 1

Conclusion

The excitement is building among the eight UFL markets, as well as pro football fans everywhere, in anticipation of the opening kickoff to the inaugural USF season.

Bookmakers will no doubt be getting in on the UFL action. We can expect online sportsbooks to begin posting odds as soon as the teams’ rosters are complete and bookmakers have had time to digest the landscape.

Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert

Jay is a Sports Betting Writer at Techopedia.com, and has been working in US sports for more than 20 years. He's worked for Daily Racing Form, the Arizona Republic, The Athletic and FanDuel among other sports and gambling positions.