XFL still working to clinch TV deal
STAMFORD — Eleven months from kickoff, the XFL has its teams, host cities and many of its coaches. It does not have a TV deal — at least not yet.
XFL officials said they are nearing an agreement on a broadcasting plan, which would be key to building the league’s audience in the inaugural 2020 season of the rebooted professional football league, which was founded by WWE CEO Vince McMahon. In contrast, however, with the XFL’s first incarnation nearly 20 years ago, a media landscape transformed by digital advances means that TV rights on their own likely would not dictate success.
“The problem/opportunity for the XFL is that sports media no longer works as it did even in 2002,” said Daniel Durbin, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Sports, Media and Society. “You can’t guarantee the future of your league by getting a contract with, say, NBC. So, there may not be an ideal network, in the traditional sense of the word, for the XFL.”
Fox and ESPN have been suggested as potential broadcast partners for the XFL, whose main offices are at 1266 E. Main St.
“We’ve had productive discussions with mainstream media outlets and expect to announce our television plans soon,” the league said in a statement. “Our goal is to make it easy for fans to find our games consistently every weekend when the XFL launches next February.”
Durbin suggested that partnering with a streaming powerhouse such as Netflix could catalyze audience growth.
“It could build up viewership over that medium and brand itself as the maverick, forward-thinking football league,” Durbin said.
XFL would kick off at a time when the NFL still generates massive TV audiences.
In the 2018 regular season, NBC Sports’ Sunday Night Football averaged 19.6 million viewers, a 7 percent year-over-year increase.
The XFL would not directly compete with the NFL because its season would start the weekend after next year’s Super Bowl.
When the XFL’s return was announced in January 2018, McMahon said fans would be able to watch on “big screens, mobile devices and everything in between.”
An estimated 14 million people watched the 2001 opener of the sole season of the original XFL — which was broadcast by NBC — but ratings soon dropped.
“Digital delivery should ultimately make the bigger impact, but you cannot completely dismiss the importance of traditional broadcast, especially as it relates to building the league’s credibility and its brand,” said Josh Shuart, chairman of marketing and sports management at Sacred Heart University.
Preparing to take the field
In the first season of the reboot, there will be XFL teams in eight cities: New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Washington, D.C.
Those squads will play a 10-game regular season, followed by playoffs that will include semifinals and a championship game.
The new squads will play in existing stadiums. The New York team will be based at MetLife Stadium, which is also the home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.
XFL officials have said they would not use WWE talent to fill its rosters. But they have not ruled out recruiting former NFL players such as Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick.
“The big question is whether the XFL can attract marquee players,” said Kevin McEvoy, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut. “What would make this really competitive is if there were enough money in the XFL to pull in players who would have otherwise gone to the NFL. They wouldn’t go to the XFL unless the money is there.”
During the next few months, the league plans to sign quarterbacks and other skill-position players. In early fall, it plans to hold a draft, in which head coaches and general managers would make further additions to their squads.
So far, the league has announced head coaches for the Dallas, Seattle, Tampa and Washington teams.
Other football leagues are also emerging.
The Alliance of American Football launched last month, supported by agreements with CBS and TNT.
Another proposed competition, the Freedom Football League, was also recently announced. Its 10 teams would include a “Connecticut Underground” squad, although the league’s website does not specify where in the state the team would play.
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