Archive for Saturday, February 3, 2001

Why watch XFL games? It’s football

All telecasts will be on a five-second delay with a censor poised to delete questionable comments

February 3, 2001

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Are we ready for sleaze and tease? Pigskin and cheerleaders' skin? WWF in helmets and pads?

The XFL debuts today with the New York/New Jersey Hitmen at the Las Vegas Outlaws. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Xtreme visits the San Francisco Demons.

NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol makes it clear that the XFL is not the NFL. Then why should people watch? Because it's football, Ebersol says.

He said that if a significant number of devoted football fans tune into XFL games, the league will be successful. A 4.5 rating will make the XFL people happy. (A single regular-season NFL game averages about a 10.0.)

Ebersol also thinks the timing is right: The XFL's only television competition on Saturday nights in February and March is basketball and hockey.

"From a promotional standpoint," Ebersol said, "this league has been presold better than any league in modern times because of (WWF honcho Vince) McMahon's involvement and his unique ability to reach young males across the country."

Ebersol says "almost two out of every three adult Americans" are aware of the XFL. "Anybody launching a new product would be thrilled with half of that number."

The XFL is aimed at the ever-popular beer-drinking, wing-bowling 18-to-34 male demographic. This age group heavily supports McMahon's popular pro rasslin'.

The XFL truly is a TV production. Cameras and reporters will be everywhere: in the stands, on the field, in the locker room. Players will be miked.

All XFL telecasts will be on a 5-second delay, with a censor poised to delete questionable comments. Coaches and players are expecting to be asked questions during the games. Since some coaches might not appreciate questions such as "Coach, why did you call that play that lost 15 yards?" be ready for some WWFlike sideline smackdowns.

"I better check my contract to see if I have life insurance for this job," said Comcast SportsNet's Michael Barkann, who will work the sidelines for the UPN telecasts.

With very few recognizable names in the league will viewers really be interested in the XFL? Asked about the quality of football, Ebersol said, "Any one of the eight teams in this league could beat any of the top college teams in the United States."

As he said, the XFL is not the NFL. Think an outdoor version of the Arena Football League.

"Everyone is trashing it before it starts," Barkann said. "It's going to be football, with some trappings surrounding the game that aren't normally seen at an NFL game."

At a recent XFL seminar, McMahon told the broadcasters, "You have to make the live experience great for the person who is at the event. That translates to viewers."

Ebersol frequently refers to "Vince's mischief" as a reason XFL telecasts will be worth watching. Anyone who has seen McMahon's wrestling acts knows that mischief often translates into sleaze.

Barkann insists he'll have nothing to do with sleaze.

"When they asked me to do this, I said, 'I'll have fun and I'll ask pointed questions, but I'm not going to get into sexual references,'" he said.

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