North Texas Daily

XFL and USFL football leagues’ limited locations isolate many football fans

XFL and USFL football leagues’ limited locations isolate many football fans

XFL and USFL football leagues’ limited locations isolate many football fans
March 03
13:00 2023

The XFL football league returned in February for its first season since cutting its 2020 campaign short due to COVID-19. The XFL and the United States Football League will begin its second modern season in April, providing an outlet for football-hungry fans mourning the NFL’s season finale on Feb. 12. However, geographic limitations hold both leagues back.

Texas football fans already have a lot to cheer for because Texas is home to three of the eight XFL teams: the Arlington Renegades, the San Antonio Brahmas and the Houston Roughnecks. Concentrating over a third of the league in a single state limits the reach of the league and alienates fans in other states shopping for a team.

Dany Garcia, XFL owner and chairwoman, says of the locations, “In each of these cities we will co-create with our fans and build these teams from the ground up so that they represent the unique fabric of our communities.”

The non-Texan teams play in D.C., Las Vegas, Seattle, Orlando and St. Louis, leaving out large swathes of the country, such as California and much of the Northeast and Midwest.

The USFL also has eight teams and still manages to have teams from different parts of the country. That doesn’t make games more accessible, however — the teams play at a combined four stadiums. This design leads to strange happenings like the Philadelphia Stars playing in Detroit, Michigan, and both the New Jersey Generals and Pittsburgh Maulers playing in Canton, Ohio.

Luckily, Houston fans have the XFL’s Roughnecks because to watch the USFL’s Houston Gamblers play would require a nine-hour drive to Memphis, Tennessee.

Where teams play is crucial to fan growth. Group experience and the role of the physical facility are two of four characteristics outlined in a 2001 Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice article about creating a strong sports brand identity. Group experience relies on forming a community with other fans by attending tailgates and games together, forming an in-group relationship with one’s own team versus other teams.

A more recent study in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport highlights the importance of symbols and rituals in a team’s stadium for cultivating a positive fan experience. The researchers reference topophilia, “a deep affection toward a particular space,” which illustrates the importance of a team’s stadium to its fans.

In the NFL, a couple of blueprints exist for teams sharing stadiums. Scrupulous attention goes into changing MetLife Stadium to feel like home to both the New York Giants and the Jets. Crews change 1,100 individual elements each time the stadium is converted for a Giants or Jets home game, including end zone logos, banners and even green and blue light filters to shine on the stadium exterior, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A team’s identity is woven into its physical site. Sometimes, these venues become as famous as the teams that play there, as is the case with Lambeau Field and Soldier Field. Such facility loyalty explains why Steelers fans caused such an uproar when Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was renamed to Acrisure Stadium last year.

The USFL is missing out on the potential to build community and facility loyalty by playing their games in stadiums far from indicated by team names. At least it is better than last year, when all eight of the USFL’s teams played in Birmingham, Alabama for the regular season before holding playoff games in Canton, Ohio.

The effect of the USFL’s stadium approach is evident in their social media following, which pales in comparison to the XFL’s. Most of the USFL teams’ Instagram followings hover in the 20,000 range, while half of the XFL teams are above the 100,000 mark. It is telling that the most followed USFL team is the Birmingham Stallions, who hosted each game last season and also won the championship.

Of course, there are reasons for the USFL’s approach. By playing in fewer stadiums, the league can save on travel and stadium costs, with plans to move all teams to their own stadiums for next season.

All else being equal, the XFL and USFL would benefit by spacing out their teams evenly throughout America’s biggest sports markets, and playing games in the teams’ cities.

Featured Illustration by Isabella Alva

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Jack Moraglia

Jack Moraglia

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