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Vince McMahon’s XFL got off to a decent start with TV viewers in its opening weekend.
The football league delivered some of the biggest audiences for sports programming on Feb. 8 and 9, with three of its four games outdrawing every NBA and college basketball telecast in the previous week. The numbers are a far cry from what the NFL brings in — and from the opening game of the previous XFL incarnation 19 years ago — but put the league on steady footing at the outset.
The four games — two on Fox, one on ABC and one on ESPN — averaged 3.12 million viewers and a 1.0 rating among adults 18-49. Those ratings are in line with the inaugural primetime game for the Alliance of American Football on CBS last year (3.25 million viewers, 0.9 in adults 18-49). Fox’s Sunday-afternoon 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.
The AAF ended up folding midway through its season last year due to financial issues. Its televised games, which after the initial CBS broadcast aired on TNT, NFL Network and CBS Sports Network (the latter of which isn’t rated by Nielsen), fell off considerably from the opener.
From a financial standpoint, the XFL is likely to be on more solid ground, as WWE owner McMahon has said he’s willing to spend what it takes to make the league viable. It also has TV deals with ESPN/ABC and Fox Sports; games will air Saturday and Sunday afternoons on ABC and Fox and on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2.
The quality of play and rules changes — including the elimination of extra-point kicks and a different way of lining up for kickoffs — drew largely positive reviews on opening weekend.
The first incarnation of the XFL, a partnership between McMahon and NBC, drew 14 million viewers for its primetime opener in 2001. Ratings quickly plummeted, however, as the quality of play and pro wrestling-style presentation were subpar. It folded after a single season.
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