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)