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Fox takes long-term view on USFL

By John Ourand

When I saw that USFL viewership dropped 57% from Week 1 to Week 2, my first call was to Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports’ executive vice president, head of strategy and analytics.

I knew Mulvihill would be OK with the numbers — everyone expected a big drop from the first week when 3.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the opening game simulcast on both Fox and NBC. But I was surprised when Mulvihill started talking about Formula One, “Sunday Night Baseball” and the NHL.

The April 23 Maulers-Stars game averaged 1.056 million viewers.getty images

Fox Sports executives are much more interested in positioning the new football league against more established spring leagues spanning all sports rather than all of the other previous football leagues that have come and gone.

“The USFL has to establish that it belongs in the same category as sports that have been part of the spring calendar for many years,” he said. “It’s all about trying to prove that the USFL is in the same class as sports that are going out there and double or tripling their rights deals.”

F1, for example, has gone to market seeking $75 million per year — a figure 15 times higher than its current deal. F1’s April 24 race averaged 1.003 million viewers on ESPN at 9 a.m. Fox’s Pittsburgh Maulers-Philadelphia Stars game at noon on April 23 averaged 1.056 million viewers.

Last year, NBC kept the Premier League rights for $450 million per year. NBC’s Brentford-Tottenham game on April 23 started at 12:30 p.m. ET and averaged 631,000 viewers. The next day, NBC’s coverage of the New Orleans Breakers-Tampa Bay Bandits kicked off at 3 p.m. ET and averaged 812,000 viewers.

“We don’t want to make too much about the opening night rating or fluctuations week-to-week in Year 1,” Mulvihill said. “We’re comfortable that we’re demonstrating that we’re in the class of events that we need to be. That should give us the luxury of taking more of a long-term view on this.”

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

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