To the surprise of little, the re-booted XFL entertained viewers in Week 1. It drew 3.12 million viewers, nowhere near the 14 million that tuned in to the original opener in 2001. But ratings dipped quickly and fell off completely after a few games in the inaugural season.
This re-boot does feel a little more equipped to last (at least through the season), with deep-pocketed WWE founder Vince McMahon essentially promising two seasons (although I can’t find the article, he said this somewhere).
The league has TV rights deals with Fox and ESPN, which will give it plenty of exposure throughout the year. Although that was never the problem with any of these makeshift leagues, as the AAF had secured airtime on CBS and only folded a few weeks into the season.
The level of dysfunction in that short-lived league is now the stuff of legend, with unpaid players and players stuck on the hook for medical bills, to name a few. But the point is pretty simple with all of these leagues. Yes, people love football. Yes, people will watch your league at the start. No, you probably don’t have enough money to sustain the insane overhead required to start a league.
The AAF apparently didn’t notice or just didn’t care about the last part and quickly folded. The hubris involved in starting a spring football league always has the same attitude attached to it; people will always watch, it’s football.
The main issue isn’t whether fans will watch in Week 1. Of course they will. They miss football Saturdays and Sundays and are fresh off of the Super Bowl. The question is whether they will watch six or eight weeks in when other options are in play, like the NHL and NBA playoffs and the Masters.
This can be especially tough when you don’t have an established fanbase, or any evidence that anyone should or will care about your team that has existed for five seconds when something else with any sort of tradition is on.
The XFL appeared to have done its homework this time around, swapping out gimmicks and cameras on cheerleaders in the locker rooms for actual innovation and rule changes, like the new kickoff allowing for more returns, and a penalty for punts out of bounds.
First kickoff ✅
— XFL (@xfl2020) February 8, 2020
There is also the option to go for 1, 2 or 3 points after touchdowns, thus eliminating extra points and allowing even a 17-point “blowout” to be a two-score game.
The games were watchable and dare I say entertaining, with some players going so far as to say the level of play is higher than the now-defunct AAF. There were breakout stars like former Buckeye flashpan Cardale Jones and Temple QB P.J. Walker, the latter never getting much of a shot from playing in the power-6 AAC.
Jones looked like the best player on the field, and maybe in the league, delivering on this trick play and delivering the DC Defenders to a 31-19 win at home.
Then of course, there were the postgame celebrations, which included some locker room shenanigans with adult beverages. Damn, this league is fun. I just hope it lasts.
Victories taste better with SELTZER.
— St. Louis BattleHawks (@XFLBattleHawks) February 10, 2020