XFL 2020 Announces Broadcasting Deal

The XFL reboot of the professional football league founded by Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fame, also known as XFL 2020, announced today a major broadcasting deal.

The burgeoning league will broadcast games on Saturday and Sunday primarily on both network television and cable television outlets. The XFL agreed to terms with ABC/ESPN and FOX on a three- year contract on Tuesday. The networks will broadcast the eight-team league with four games each weekend: two on Saturday and two on Sunday.

The Saturday games will be back-to-back and start at 2 PM Eastern and the Sunday games will be in the afternoon hours as well. The broadcast partners will feature games on broadcast television on ABC and FOX nationally and will broadcast on ESPN and FS1 as the primary cable outlets. However, the press releases seemed to indicate that some games would also air on secondary cable outlets ESPN2 and FS2.

The opening game of XFL 2020 will be held on February 8, 2020 and the season will span 10 weeks with two weeks of postseason games. The top two teams from each four-team division will move into the playoffs. The championship game will be broadcast on ESPN.

The scale of this broadcasting deal is impressive for a new league and will certainly help grow the interest in the league by having regular time frames for games and two highly visible broadcast partners. It will be easy for fans to access the games and to ultimately drive the excitement around this new league.

Some people, myself included, were very surprised that the XFL was able to leverage a broadcasting deal that was so extensive with network broadcasts of games on major networks such as ABC and FOX. This is especially profound given the recent failure of the AAF (Alliance of American Football) which had a broadcasting deal in place with CBS, Turner Sports, and NFL Network.

The AAF folded and ceased operations before the end of their first regular season. The ratings for the broadcasts were abysmal. The risk is certainly there for the broadcast partners of any new league, but the “ x factor” no pun intended, in this deal is McMahon who is seen by many as an outstanding marketer and businessman.

The XFL Commissioner, Oliver Luck, is also a mastermind of marketing the sport of football. The league chose larger media markets than the AAF as well. The AAF went with small markets that had no NFL presence. The XFL took on the approach of being in large markets to grow the game and reach a larger audience.

The rebooted XFL will have teams in: Dallas, Houston, Tampa Bay, Washington D.C., New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Seattle. Those locations all make sense from a strategic business sense and from the fan base perspective. The sport of football has a tremendous amount of support in states such as Florida and Texas. The New York, D.C., and Los Angeles markets make sense from a media and population/demographic perspective.

The St. Louis market makes sense because they lost their NFL team to relocation, and Seattle is a great sports city that gives them a major market in the Northwest. The broadcasting agreement today also indicates that with the trends in media moving toward the importance of content, live sports content is still so highly desirable for the networks. It is especially important in reaching the key demographics of men age 18 to 34 and also for men in the 25 to 54 and over 55 age demographics.
These groups of men tend to spend more money than the other demographic groups as well as demonstrated the willingness to be more likely for an impulse purchase. The broadcasts of the XFL games will most certainly feature sponsorships with heavily male product areas.

In a personal note, I remember the first XFL iteration which debuted back in 2001. I recall the night of the inaugural game and watching that game with my father. I remember all my buddies were watching it too. The first XFL failed because they tried too many gimmicks.

I also recall watching the New York Hitmen who played at the former Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands complex in New Jersey, and they drew a good-sized crowd to those games. The league back then just had too many trick plays, off the wall rules, and they did not have enough star players.

Commissioner Luck has stated that XFL 2020 will not have the gimmicks and they will provide a highly visible platform for players who are looking to make the leap to the NFL especially at positions where real-time game reps are what is needed for scouts to evaluate their talent.

The XFL 2020 took a big step forward today with this broadcasting deal. The team names, uniforms, and schedules will be the next big news from this new league. It remains to be seen if McMahon is a great salesman or if the product on the field will back up the expectations being set for this reinvented football league.

(Some background info courtesy of Fortune, Wall Street Journal, and ESPN.com)

Football Talk

I write about both sports and television ratings often on Frank’s Forum, and with the Super Bowl just concluded, I was reflecting back on the past few months. The Super Bowl is usually the most watched event on television of the entire year, and some editions of the sporting event have set all-time U.S. television ratings records.

The thrilling comeback and overtime win for the New England Patriots as they defeated the Atlanta Falcons had overnight numbers that are lower than previous Super Bowls. However, the event still posted a 48 overnight rating and about 110 million viewers which is a huge number in terms of the way rating numbers have changed in recent years.

The start of the NFL season coincides with the start of the new season of TV programs. The major networks have had the same strategy for years regarding viewership. The networks tend to pair successful returning series with new series concepts and then determine over a period of time if those lineups are successful.

Many new television concepts for network series usually are not successful. It is very difficult terrain especially with the new technologies available to viewers to successfully navigate the waters of the new media world we live in. The streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have only increased the competition for new television programs to gain interest and stay viable.

One new series that has become one of the highest rated new shows on network television is from NBC and titled, “This Is Us”. It is a favorite show for my wife and I which we enjoy watching together. In our busy lives we never watch it live on the night it airs, we always watch it via On Demand from our provider, which serves to validate my earlier point on the changes to viewership patterns.

Those of you who have not seen the show yet, but plan to watch it from the beginning or at least check out the pilot episode (which I recommend) I do not want to provide any spoilers. I will summarize one scene which serves as the point of this whole piece on football.

In one scene in an early episode of the show one of the female characters is observing the guy she is romantically involved with while he is watching a Pittsburgh Steelers football game on TV. The scene then shifts to a flashback of her childhood where she is sitting on the floor observing her father as he intently watches the Steelers play on TV.

Then, she explains to the guy she is with, that she cannot relive her childhood and sit there while he watches football. She asks him to teach her about the game, which he gladly obliges, and in the time advanced sequences, she emerges as a huge fan of the sport.

It evoked a memory of a similar situation for my wife and I, except my father-in-law was not a sports fan. She wanted to spend time with me, and anyone who knows me understands that I enjoy sports very much. I enjoy watching games and talking about sports of all types. I especially love and enjoy NFL football.

My wife asked me in the same type of way to teach her the game of football, so that she could understand what was going on, and that we could talk about it. Her brothers are both avid New York Giants fans, so it helped that she knew some of the history of that team for me to use as my baseline for her.

I taught my wife, just as the character “Jack” taught “Rebecca” about football, using props for the lineman and the other positions on the field. We watched NFL Network together, and during the course of watching the games I would answer questions about the rules of the game, which was also a lot of fun for me.

It seems like before I knew it, my wife, like the character “Rebecca”, was a passionate football fan, yelling at the TV (totally out of character for my wife) and watching the Giants on her smart phone while cleaning or doing other household tasks, or while out running errands.

We watch several out of market games together too, we discuss the issues facing other teams in the league, and the strategy of the NFL Draft and that process. In the years that followed, we would have gatherings for Sunday football games, and started our own traditions for the Super Bowl.

In the past couple of years, with my working the weekends, we have lunch together on Sunday before I go in to work, and we will watch the Giants or whoever is on at 1PM. We talk about that game, and then she will put the Sunday primetime game on for when I get home. We will very often watch that together.

In reflecting on the past several weeks, the whole situation really came to a head when I had to work all of the Divisional Playoff weekend a few weeks ago. I would come home late and my wife provided all the background on the games. I listened as she talked about three-man or four-man rush defensive calls, on challenged referee decisions that went to the replay booth, and on the Cowboys play calling to get back into that toe-to-toe battle with the Packers.

She told me all about the Falcons and their vaunted offense, her opinion on why the Seahawks could not get going, and how Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback at extending plays. It is a nice and healthy distraction away from all the things that can clutter up life and serves as a point of interest for us to have together and share.

Now, football season is over, and football talk for my wife and I will shift to the offseason topics of teams improving rosters, draft prospects, and new head coaches trying to turn around teams that have underperformed.

After that wild Super Bowl game was concluded I told my wife how I will miss football. It always seems so long to wait for it to return again in September, but she reassured me and told me that I say the same thing every season. It will be back before we know it, and she told me that I will shift my focus to hockey primarily, a sport she does not know as well (but will watch with me).

I will miss the games on Sunday afternoons and the Monday nights, but I will miss our football talks. The process of writing this essay helped me understand how much I value the memories of those talks as well as to gain further insight as to how much my wife loves me. She loves me enough to learn about football because she wanted to spend more time with me.

I am lucky, fortunate, and blessed. It is my hope that you find that same type of common interest with the special someone that you share your life with and that time can be fulfilling and fun. In the meantime, I will wait until next season for our football talks to return.

NFL To Los Angeles Update: More Twists & Turns

The ongoing quest of the NFL relocation process to Los Angeles took a few more twists and turns recently following a set of meetings between the league, the owners, and the parties from three NFL teams interested in gaining a foothold into the nation’s second largest media market.


Those meetings took place in the Chicago area and presentations were made by the Chargers, the Raiders, and the Rams regarding potential relocation to Los Angeles and their respective stadium proposals. I have reported on this topic for a few years now and I can attest that the situation is an evolving one, to put it diplomatically.


In order to provide some backdrop for readers who are not aware of the relocation scenario with the NFL and Los Angeles it essentially boils down to back room politics within one of the most profitable sports leagues in the world. The Rams, who initially played in L.A. and moved to St. Louis for a sweetheart deal on a new stadium in the mid-1990s, are now positioning themselves for a move back to Southern California. Their owner, Stan Kroenke, has made a huge land purchase in Inglewood on the site of the former Hollywood Park horseracing track (see my earlier article which focuses exclusively on this deal) with the aim to build a world class football stadium on the site.


The Chargers and Raiders moved quickly following Kroenke’s land move to secure land for a joint stadium project in Carson, California which has been fast tracked through the government permit and environmental review stages to be a more “shovel ready” project at this point than the Rams proposal. The Chargers have worked with San Diego (though some in San Diego municipal government claim the Chargers never worked in good faith) on a new stadium for 15 years with no progress being made in that time period.

The Raiders have worked with Oakland for a similar time frame (if not longer) to find an acceptable proposal to replace the aging Coliseum but with no success. The Raiders have positioned themselves well in the “race to L.A.” because they do not want their own stadium, they prefer to be a partner or a tenant in whatever stadium bid gets accepted by the NFL.


The NFL would prefer to have two teams in the market and not three, so somebody is going to be left out of this equation, and it is looking more likely that it is not going to be the Raiders. In the mainstream media press conference after the Chicago meetings regarding the L.A. relocation, an NFL Vice President was quoted as stating that the Raiders have no viable way of staying in Oakland.


Horse Race


The horse race to L.A. was viewed prior to the meetings in Chicago by NFL insiders as scenario where the Chargers/Raiders proposal in Carson being the lead proposal for acceptance by the league ownership. The rationale being that both teams are based in California and have worked diligently to remain in their current markets with no progress seen in that regard.


The view prior to the meetings was that Kroenke’s move with the Hollywood Park land purchase was too bold and aggressive. It also should be noted that St. Louis has put together a viable option for a new stadium on the waterfront for the Rams to remain in Missouri that has intrigued NFL owners and league executives.


However, according to sources in the mainstream sports media, after the meetings in Chicago it appears that the Rams proposal for the stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood has gained significant traction. There is also some movement by San Diego to put together a proposal for a new facility to keep the team from relocating.

It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out between now and the expected official decision on which teams will be in L.A. which is expected in January 2016. The Giants owner, John Mara, stated to the media that he expects a team to be playing in L.A. by 2016 in a temporary venue.


Alternate Plans


Once the two teams that are approved by the NFL to relocate to Los Angeles are announced, the issue becomes finding a temporary home for the teams while the construction of their long term home is being undertaken. The Rose Bowl has, according to mainstream reports, told the NFL that they are not interested in temporarily hosting a NFL franchise. The LA Coliseum apparently is willing to serve as a temporary venue for a relocated franchise to the city.


Then, on Monday, in a strange turn of events, San Antonio has stepped up and announced that they would be willing to host the Raiders temporarily if they get relocated to LA because their lease with Oakland ends at the end of this season. The Carson stadium will not be ready for another two years and the Inglewood stadium could take three years to construct.


My first thoughts when I saw this news earlier was that it was strange, but the more I thought about it, it represents a really smart move by San Antonio. The Raiders owner, Mark Davis, has already visited San Antonio and met with officials there as a potential relocation site for the franchise (see my earlier article on the Oakland stadium) though that turned out to be a maneuver to gain leverage so that Oakland would approve funds for a new facility for the team.


The scenario in Oakland between the municipal government, county leadership, and the Raiders executives has gone downhill rapidly from bad to worse. The Coliseum is known throughout the league as the worst facility and the appetite in Oakland for spending public funds for a stadium is tepid at best. The NFL beat writer for the Raiders reported to CBS Sports that Mark Davis went to the Oakland officials with a reduced stadium plan purposing an intimate venue with 50,000 seats versus some other NFL stadiums which have close to 70,000 capacity. The smaller facility would have a reduced price tag and environmental impact, the two sides could not come to agreement on that proposal.


The Raiders may need a temporary home for a few years until the move to L.A. and it may need to be outside of Oakland with the state of the relationship between both parties. In the hypothetical scenario that the Rams and Raiders are both awarded L.A. relocations by the league, the Rams would most likely play at the LA Coliseum on a temporary basis. It may be difficult to schedule two teams to play at that facility, so that is where San Antonio is making their sales pitch at this point.


When you think about it, it makes sense for both sides. The Raiders could gain exposure to a whole new demographic of fans and due to their success earlier in their franchise history they already have a national following, they could add to that fan base by playing in Texas. The NFL let a study gain media attention a couple of weeks ago where there was a survey done of Raiders fans, and the majority said that they would support the team regardless of where they based their operation. It was an obvious placement by the NFL to soften the ground for the LA relocation of the franchise, but it could also play a role for San Antonio to appeal to both the Raiders and the league that they can be a viable temporary home.


It makes sense for San Antonio because they would gain tax revenues from the team operations, game days, and an increase in tourism/ hotel stays from the team playing there temporarily for two to three years. The Alamodome would be the site for the games and that facility is undergoing an over $40 million dollar renovation including wider concourses, a new scoreboard, larger locker rooms, and other amenities in preparation for the stadium to host the NCAA basketball Final Four in 2018. The Raiders would be able to play games indoors in an upgraded facility that is far nicer than Oakland Coliseum at this point. The local fans in San Antonio would get NFL football for two to three years right in their city, and the city would be able to show the NFL that they can handle an expansion or other relocated team on a permanent basis down the line.


Switching Places


On Monday night a report emerged regarding the Chargers – Raiders joint project in Carson. The NFL has reported that if that stadium initiative is accepted by the league, then the teams will no longer remain in the same division, the AFC West in this case, or the same conference. The NFL would realign the teams so that one would most likely join the NFC West.


In that scenario, in order to keep the conferences and the divisions evenly balanced in the four divisions with four teams in each conference, another team would have to change conferences as well. Carmen Policy, who is heading up the NFL to LA movement at this point and was heavily involved in the presentations in Chicago related in this report that several intriguing realignment options are on the table at this point.


I had thought about this scenario while writing an earlier article on this topic. In many ways, approving the Inglewood project is a much more streamlined process for the NFL because the Rams would relocate to Southern California and remain in the NFC West, and the Raiders would most likely be their co-tenant and remain in the AFC West with no realignment of the league being necessary.


However, that still leaves the Chargers in a potentially untenable situation in San Diego, which the NFL certainly internally knows much more about just how dire that situation is, certainly more than I do. That may be the impetus behind the drive for the Carson project, to resolve the Chargers stadium issue  as well as the Raiders issues all in one bold sweeping move.


I know that Jason LaComfora of CBS Sports first reported this several months ago, and it is an intriguing idea. He thinks that if the Rams move to LA and the Inglewood project goes ahead and the Rams leave St. Louis, then the team that is left out of the LA market could wind up moving to St. Louis and playing in the new proposed riverfront stadium. In light of recent events, with the NFL open to realignment, all options could be on the table. The Chargers could wind up moving to St. Louis and staying in the AFC West where they would have a regional rival in their division in the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers would also still play the Raiders and Broncos in that scenario twice per season as they currently do.


In my view, that would be the biggest issue with the Carson project is having to shift multiple teams and realign the league. That would eliminate the rivalry games that NFL fans look forward to from back in the old AFL days, fierce rivalries between the Broncos and Chargers or the Raiders and Chiefs.


The other point that I have to mention here is that the NFL does not want 3 teams playing in the Los Angeles market, and if they decide to keep the Rams out (it seems Kroenke is set to go there) how will the league prevent a billionaire from moving the operation of his team from St. Louis to the nation’s second largest media market and the entertainment capital of the world?


The issue is further complicated when consideration is given to the fact that the Rams once played in Los Angeles and they have a passionate following and supporters there that want the team to return to Southern California.


In that scenario, what happens to St. Louis and their plans for a new riverfront stadium? Some within NFL circles question whether St. Louis deserves another shot at a team because they lost the Cardinals previously, so if the city loses the Rams as well, are they the right market for an NFL team?


This situation certainly is a delicate one for the NFL and for three franchises who are vying to gain entry into a coveted and largely untapped marketplace. It will be interesting to see how the NFL, the owners, and the executives from the three teams involved handle the next steps in what has become a race to get NFL football back to Los Angeles.


(Some background information courtesy of CBS Sports.com)