NEW YORK The XFL folded Thursday after one season that was a critical and
television ratings disappointment for the football league founded by the
World Wrestling Federation and jointly owned by NBC.
The WWF said its share of after-tax losses will be about $35
million. NBC's loss should be similar.
"Despite where our heart was, we just couldn't make it work
from a financial standpoint," WWF chairman Vince McMahon said.
"We tried to figure out every conceivable way to make this work."
Even with many adjustments during the season, very little worked
for the XFL between the much-hyped and well-rated season opener and
the April 21 championship game, which was watched by about 75
percent fewer people than the debut on NBC.
The final game's national rating was a 2.1, tying for 93rd place
among prime-time shows that week and lower than anything else on
the four major networks. Each rating point represents a little more
than 1 million television homes.
The Week 7 broadcast on NBC is believed to be the lowest-rated
prime-time program ever on one of the three major networks.
"It was a risk we all thought was a smart one in this wildly
escalating TV rights scene," said NBC Sports chairman Dick
Ebersol, who had hoped to provide his network with football after
it lost its NFL rights contract after the 1997 season.
NBC hoped to parlay McMahon's promotional skills to draw the
young male viewers that advertisers crave and air games on
Saturdays, which generally have poor television ratings.
knew it wasn't going to work (in prime time) from
early March on. The launch worked, the people were there, and we didn't answer their
expectations, I guess. ”
||— NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol
In the end, the XFL lasted two years fewer than another outdoor
spring football league -- the USFL, which started airing on ABC in
1983 and folded after three seasons.
"We knew it wasn't going to work (in prime time) from early
March on," Ebersol said. "The launch worked, the people were
there, and we didn't answer their expectations, I guess."
In addition to Saturday nights on NBC, XFL games were shown on
UPN and TNN. McMahon indicated the death blow for the fledgling
league was that no deal could be struck with those secondary
The XFL didn't seem to be able to decide whether it wanted to be
more about sport or spectacle.
"I never had faith in the concept," said former CBS Sports
president Neal Pilson, a consultant. "If they had pitched it
closer to football, they would have lost the wrestling audience. If
they had made a burlesque out of football to conform to the
expectations of the wrestling audience, they probably would have
lost NBC, which as I understand it wanted to play quality
Early games had lascivious cheerleader shots, anti-NFL bluster
from WWF types, sophomoric double entendres and screaming
announcers -- including Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a former WWF
wrestler -- who sounded more like shills than analysts.
By the end, most of that nonsense was gone.
The XFL even changed the on-field rules to speed up games after
a double-overtime contest in Week 2 delayed "Saturday Night
Live." Other rules changes came as late as the playoffs, and
tinkering with the production side never ceased.
J.K. McKay, general manager of the first and only XFL champion
Los Angeles Xtreme, said the demise came as a surprise, especially
because the league held meetings just a week ago in Connecticut.
"I feel very badly," McKay said. "It's been a lot of fun. We
took a lot of heat in the media. We tried to put a good product on
the field and allow people to come to football games who never
could have afforded to."
Ventura, asked for his reaction as he left a speech in Minneapolis, said: "I don't care. I don't work for them anymore."
Although the quality of the football might have improved during
the season, it was telling that the league's most valuable player, Tommy Maddox, threw more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns during a
brief NFL career.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would have no comment
-- a position the NFL maintained throughout the XFL's existence.
At stadiums, the eight-team league said it sold about 1 million
tickets, but the championship game drew a crowd of only 24,153 to
the 90,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum.
But the television viewership plummeted after a promising Week
1, prompting the league to give away about 30 percent of its ad
inventory for free to sponsors whose commercials weren't reaching
as many viewers as they had been promised.
"The audience didn't like it in the numbers we needed to go
forward," Ebersol said.
The XFL did give fans impressive access to the game, including
cameras in huddles and microphones in helmets.
"In terms of the innovations that NBC and WWF brought to the
game -- I would suggest that you will see those in the NFL,"
McMahon said. "Our whole imprimatur was to bring the game closer
to the fan."
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