Archive for Tuesday, February 6, 2001

XFL begins planning next step

New league hopes to continue momentum of successful opening weekend

February 6, 2001


— Never the types who are satisfied until every angle has been covered, Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol get right back to work this week with one task in mind: Make sure the XFL was not a one-shot wonder.

Yes, the league's debut broadcasts this weekend on NBC and UPN drew impressive preliminary TV ratings and plenty of media scrutiny (not all positive, but in entertainment any publicity is good publicity).

There were some hitches, however, that McMahon, the World Wrestling Federation mogul and master marketer behind the XFL, and NBC Sports chairman Ebersol are already trying to smooth out.

A closer look at the viewership numbers indicates why.

NBC's first XFL telecast started off with a 12.9 rating from 8-8:30 p.m. EST Saturday. That declined steadily over the next 21/2 hours, bottoming out at an 8.9 from 10:30-11 p.m., before getting a slight lift in the last half hour.

UPN, one of the new league's other broadcasters, doubled its affiliates' time-period average by drawing a 4.2 preliminary rating with its first XFL game. While that's more than needed to satisfy guarantees to advertisers, it's 10 percent lower than UPN's WWF wrestling program has averaged on Thursday nights since September.

"They had a good start. There was a high number of curious viewers. I doubt they can sustain the rating that they achieved on the first weekend," said Neil Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports and now head of a TV consulting firm.

"The real test is how they do over the next three or four weekends. How much of the audience can they retain over the season? It's really too early to pass judgment."

Ebersol attributed the viewership slippage over the course of Saturday night's program to the lopsided nature of the game between the Outlaws and the Hitmen.

He already has some remedies in mind. One such plan: have more canned pieces starring players (and probably cheerleaders) at the ready to fill lulls.

"We'll have a few more tricks in our pocket," Ebersol vows.

Aside from the ratings, the other good news for the XFL was that advertisers aren't balking at the double entendres and salaciousness used to fill the gaps between plays.

"We've had no negative feedback from any of our major sponsors nor advertisers," XFL VP of sales Bob Riordan said Monday. "I think our advertisers appreciated our honesty going into the games. They weren't caught by surprise.

"I don't think the content is an issue."

The XFL has $40 million in advertising sales so far, Riordan said, with 20-to-30 percent of commercial slots still available. He said some potential advertisers inquired Monday about buying.

"At this point, it's doing a lot better than NBC has been doing in that time period, clearly," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, VP of broadcast research at advertising agency TN Media. "And doing a lot better for UPN. It's a wonderful environment to reach men, who are difficult to reach in television, and it's priced somewhat less expensively than other shows."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.