XFL, USFL, other pro football leagues that took on the NFL

The rebooted XFL kicks off on Feb. 8, 2020

The debut of Vince McMahon’s rebooted XFL on Saturday will mark the latest effort by an upstart league to shake the NFL’s monopoly on the sport.

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck said the league will feature a faster, safer on-field product compared to the traditional football the NFL has played for decades. Games will use a shorter game clock than the NFL and conclude in under three hours.

McMahon tried to challenge the NFL once before. The original XFL, which arose as a joint partnership between his WWE (then called WWF) and NBC, folded in 2001 after just one season. This time, XFL officials say there is a long-term financial commitment to the league.


The rebooted league kicks off its inaugural season Saturday with eight teams that will compete over a 10-week regular season. While Luck said the league will “complement,” not directly challenge, the NFL, the U.S. marketplace has struggled to sustain more than one major professional football league in the past.

Here’s a look at other upstart pro football leagues that have tried — and often failed — to reinvent the sport.


United States Football League (1983-1986)

Walt Michaels (L) shakes hands with New Jersey’s Generals’ owner Donald Trump at Giants Stadium 1220 after Trump named him as the USFL team’s coach. Michaels, who was turned loose by the New York Jets only two weeks after leading they to the brink of

Arguably the most successful challenge to the NFL, the USFL succeeded in luring several stars to its rosters, including future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Jim Kelly and Reggie White and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. President Trump was one of the league’s team owners, purchasing the short-lived New Jersey Generals.

The USFL famously filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. A jury ruled that the NFL was in violation of some antitrust laws, but awarded a judgement of just $3 against the league. The USFL folded in 1986, shortly before it was set to play a fall season in direct competition with the NFL.


XFL (1999-2001)

Founded by WWE’s McMahon and NBC Sports, the original XFL sought to unseat the NFL by offering a rougher version of traditional football. Promoted as football with fewer rules and bigger hits, the league featured such gimmicks as scantily clad cheerleaders and nicknames on the back of player jerseys.

Initially drawing widespread publicity, the XFL’s ratings quickly plummeted and the league folded after just one season, and reportedly lost $70 million.

United Football League (2009-2012)

The UFL launched with just four teams comprised primarily of players and coaches who had spent time in the NFL. The league chose to play its schedule in the fall, competing directly with NFL and NCAA football broadcasts. The UFL’s backers reportedly hoped to capitalize on the possibility that NFL owners and players would fail to reach terms on a new labor agreement in 2011, potentially setting the upstart league up as the public’s only source of football.

Beset by financial issues almost from the start, the UFL collapsed after its 2012 seasons amid lawsuits from players and coaches who alleged they were owed back salary.

Arena Football League (1987-2008, 2010-2019)

Pregame celebrations during ArenaBowl XX at the Thomas

Played entirely indoors, the AFL uses a shorter field, narrower goalposts and other rule tweaks designed to create a high-scoring, fast style of play. The league enjoyed marginal success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, securing media rights contracts and producing Kurt Warner, a quarterback who later won two Super Bowls with the St. Louis Rams.

The AFL began facing financial problems in the late 2000s, ultimately canceling its 2009 season and declaring bankruptcy. Featuring as many as 19 franchises at its peak, the league had just six teams when it ceased operations for a second time in October 2019.

Alliance of American Football (2019)

Co-founded by Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian, the AAF sought to combine a high-quality on-field product with an integrated app that would keep viewers engaged with the action. The league earned solid early reviews, but it ran into immediate financial problems. Billionaire Tom Dundon acquired majority ownership in the league and kept it afloat for a few weeks, but ultimately pulled funding after he failed to strike a partnership with the NFL. The AAF ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy after less than one full season.


XFL reboot (2020-)

The new XFL will feature eight teams in the following cities: New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. Executives say the league will focus on creating a fast-paced, family-friendly game with cheaper game tickets and fewer commercials.

This story has been updated.