Justin Whitner | Staff Writer
When the XFL began its first go-around in 2001, it was a professional American football lea gue that wanted to pounce on the idea that football season could still stay relevant after the completion of the NFL and NCAA seasons.
The XFL set off as a joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation and NBC. WWF owner Vince McMahon promoted the outdoor football league with fewer rules, faster play time and more excitement on the field. The first XFL league had eight teams in two divisions. The 2020 version will repeat that same league plan with hopes that this second go-around with the league will go much differently.
In the first week of the XFL season in 2020, much like in 2001, many viewers tuned in to the opening day of games. Two games were on Fox, one on ABC and one on ESPN. The four games averaged 3.12 million viewers and a 1.0 rating among adults ages 18-49.
Those ratings were in line with the inaugural prime-time game for the Alliance of American Football on CBS last year that averaged 3.25 million viewers, 0.9 in adults 18-49. However, the AAF didn’t get a chance to even finish its season as it suspended operations the 9th week of the 10-game season.
Fox’s Sunday afternoon XFL game had the biggest audience with 3.39 million viewers, while ESPN’s Sunday telecast was the smallest of the four with just under 2.5 million viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“I think the XFL has a better foundation, and I think they came with a different approach,” Hampton University football player Justin Lawson said. “The XFL has its own set of rules that makes it more interesting to watch. The XFL is also accessible on channels like Fox and Fox1; it also comes on ABC, which tells you that the XFL has network approval and people are actually watching.”
The rule changes and opportunities in the XFL, along with the quality of play, drew largely positive reviews on opening weekend. Although the kickers are undermined, and their value is decreased with no more punting out of bounds, kickoffs are backed up, more returns are allowed and no more extra-point kicks, it seems to have brought a different style to the game of football.
In 2001, the partnership between McMahon and NBC resulted in 14 million viewers for its prime-time opener. After the first game, however, the ratings went all the way down, and that XFL failed just after one season. NBC and the WWF both lost $35 million on their $100 million investment in the league’s inaugural season, according to Forbes.
“For the XFL to stay relevant, it has to get a specific fan base, and the city they have placed themselves in will help them reach those places because only the fans keep the team alive.” Lawson said. “Like the DC defenders had a showing yesterday that was pretty good, and their quarterback Cardale Jones is not bad.”
The XFL has started off on the same path as it did in 2001, but it will have to do things extremely different this go-around in order to keep the league afloat.