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Product Development and Football

What can football teach us about product development?

A lot, actually. Exhibit A: the USFL.

The USFL (spring professional football that isn’t affiliated with the NFL) is a perfect lesson in 1) applying learnings from failure and 2) solving for product feasibility and business viability.

It’s no secret that non-NFL leagues have struggled to stay in business. The AAF and XFL (twice) both tried and failed to stay alive.

So what did the USFL do differently?

They realized that while there was proven value (Americans love football) and usability (Americans know how to watch TV or attend games) in a football product, previous attempts weren’t feasible or supported by business operations due to one thing: money. Costs to build, deliver, and support a football league simply outweighed revenue.

As a result, Fox (yep, the national TV broadcaster and the owner of the USFL) solved the problem by 1) playing the first season in one physical location but broadcasting it nationally 2) cutting broadcasting costs by, well, fully owning broadcast rights and 3) confirming that enough people would watch.


The result? The USFL is the first and only non-NFL American league to make it into their second season. And Fox continues to test and learn into their next iteration of the model.

Putting the customer’s value first and solving the other three elements of the product’s fit (usability, feasibility, and business viability) works.

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