Welcome to my weekly column here on XFL News Hub, where I go over all the latest news and happenings across the XFL.
BattleHawks doing big business for St. Louis and the XFL
The XFL saved their best home opener for last this past weekend. Pro Football gloriously returned to St. Louis this past Sunday, as the BattleHawks bested the New York Guardians 29-9 in the ‘Battledome.’ 29,554 fans filled the entire lower half of the stadium, and the atmosphere was electric.
From day one, St. Louis and the XFL always seemed like the perfect marriage. Both the XFL and St. Louis, are out to prove that they belong on the pro football landscape. Both entities have been told that they don’t belong and that no one wants or needs them. Thus far, St. Louis has proven that they are a town that loves football, and they have embraced their BattleHawks and the XFL with open minds, hearts, and wings.
The marriage of St. Louis and the XFL is also proving to be a strong business relationship as well. The success and popularity of the Battlehawks are helping both the city of St. Louis and the XFL at the gate. With nearly 30,000 fans in attendance, Sunday’s gate was over a million dollars in ticket sales alone.
Back in November of 2018, The XFL and St. Louis finalized an agreement that would benefit both parties if the league was successful in the market. The deal was designed to be suitable for all parties involved.
The XFL is paying $100,000 in rent per game plus all concession cash to the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, the managers of the stadium known as the Dome.
The XFL agreement guarantees five home games per season for three years- 1.5 million in total, contractually obligated. In return, the Commission has to cover heating, cooling, lighting, Wi-Fi, and turf, among other operational costs.
The XFL gets 100 percent of the broadcasting, game-day advertising, and ticket revenues. In return, the XFL had the option to buy out the Dome’s concessionaire for $5,000 per game to pocket all profits from merchandise sales. If the XFL passed on this option, they would get 80 percent of these revenues, after labor costs and would pay 20 percent to the Commission.
The Commission gets profits from concession sales. However, if the yearly totals on these sales surpass $200,000, the Commission kicks 25 percent of those sales to the XFL.
The XFL is paying for ushers, ticket agents, police officers, security guards, and other game-day costs. The league also gets no break in payroll or earnings taxes.
To protect themselves early on, the Commission had clauses put into the deal. The XFL had to deposit $250,000 before the season started, plus a $300,000 letter of credit if the league didn’t pay up.
Here’s the kicker on incentives. If attendance for any St. Louis game exceeds 10,000, the Commission must pay the XFL $1 per entry; if ticket sales pass #20,000, the rebate jumps to $2 per ticket. The city, facility, and the league all benefitted from the stellar attendance of the BattleHawks home opener.
The XFL has similar arrangments in place with all of their teams playing venues. Like Raymond James Stadium or TDECU Stadium, for example. The same type of ticket/concession sales arrangement is in place with incentives laden in the deal if the games exceed specific figures.
XFL TV Ratings Reality
Week 3 of the XFL averaged 1.61 million viewers, with two of the XFL’s games broadcasted on FS1 and ESPN. (the first weekend to have two games on cable tv)
Week 2 of the XFL averaged 2.1 million viewers. (Two games on ABC, One on Fox and the other on FS1)
So the league is “down” roughly 500 thousand viewers from last week. A misleading figure considering where the games aired by comparison.
That hasn’t stopped the narrative out there that the XFL is on a downward spiral headed towards its inevitable demise.
The reality is that the XFL TV ratings should continue to trend slightly downward in the coming weeks. It has nothing to do with the quality of the first-year league, which has been surprisingly very good on the field and improving, or the stellar production values and innovation presented.
Several factors are moving forward. In week 4, for example, the XFL will be airing two games on cable yet again, but this time, Sunday on ESPN2 and FS1. Two cable stations that don’t draw huge viewership.
The XFL is also headed towards March Madness and the midpoint of its season. The playoff race in the XFL will begin to ramp up during weeks 8-10, where all divisional rivals meet for three straight weeks to determine which half of the league goes to the playoffs. During this stretch, the XFL will have two Thursday night primetime games on Fox.
The key with the XFL’s ratings is where it stacks up at the end of the season. As a first-year league, it’s unfair to compare a new pro sports league to established entities. Still, the XFL thus far is holding up favorably against all sports programming.
Saturday 2/22 Sports Ratings on Network Television:
(Per ShowBuzzDaily/Nielsen Media Research)
XFL on ABC- 1.9 million viewers
XFL on Fox- 2.05 million viewers
NBA on ABC- 1.75 million viewers
PGA on NBC- 1.72 million viewers
NCAA Basketball on CBS- 966k viewers
NCAA Basketball on Fox- 546k viewers
Premier League Soccer on NBC- 843k viewers
The XFL’s two games on 2/23, were both on cable and didn’t match up viewer wise to their big network games on Fox or ABC. Still, the broadcasts themselves stacked up favorably against all shows this past Sunday on Cable Television.
The BattleHawks-Guardians game on Sunday Afternoon started on ESPN News before airing on ESPN 12 minutes into the telecast, the game was ranked sixth out of 150 cable tv programs on Sunday, only behind shows like The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, and others.
The Wildcats-Defenders game on FS1 was that network’s highest-rated sports program of the weekend. Overall, the game ranked eighth out of 150 cable tv shows on Sunday.
The NFL’s scouting of the XFL
It’s scouting combine week in the NFL. NFL teams will scout, meet with, and watch prospective draft-eligible college football players work out. One of the players who is also draft-eligible is currently starring in the secondary of the St. Louis BattleHawks in Safety Kenny Robinson.
NFL executives, team officials, and scouts have also been watching the XFL very closely. During this week, many NFL execs have come out in favor of the XFL and its innovations, particularly the XFL’s kickoff rule. Houston Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien remarked how he has enjoyed watching the games and talent like PJ Walker in the XFL.
In a recent article from Sports Illustrated, O’Brien was extremely complimentary towards XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck. “I know Oliver Luck’s done a really good job,” O’Brien continued. “They got the right guy in charge of that league because he’s such a good guy and cares about the game. So it’s been fun to watch.”
The NFL has had a keen eye on the XFL and its operation dating back to last summer when NFL reps were on hand to watch the XFL test their rules with the Spring League. NFL scouts were also on hand in January, watching all eight XFL teams practice during training camp.
The scouting has extended to the XFL regular season. Each XFL game has had a handful of NFL team scouts on hand watching the games and players very closely. The New York Guardians-Tampa Bay Vipers game back on February 9th had several NFL team scouts in attendance watching the action.
People in the football community love that the XFL is in existence. Especially scouts and coaches who don’t get an extended opportunity in the summer to see players on their offseason rosters play. Most players on the back end of NFL rosters in August, get limited reps and playing time, and preseason games have no real game planning. So they are not useful simulations of actual football games. Over 200 of the XFL’s 450 players were on NFL rosters in the last seven months.
XFL players that weren’t on NFL teams radars before the league’s first three weeks of games are now being targeted as potential signings in early May. I had two advanced NFL scouts recently run a list of 10 players each that they have earmarked as signings for their respective teams. One scout revealed to me that he was surprised by how many players that his team missed on in the evaluation process.
It remains to be seen how many XFL players end up on NFL offseason rosters when the XFL season concludes. The AAF had dozens, and then a good handful made NFL rosters during the regular season. Two quarterbacks from that league in Garrett Gilbert (Orlando) and John Wolford (Arizona) latched on to NFL teams. (Browns and Rams respectively) PJ Walker and Jordan Ta’amu look like strong candidates to follow suit come this May.
Before the XFL season started, XFL CEO Oliver Luck, when asked about the league’s target range for average attendance. In multiple interviews, Luck mentioned the numbers of potentially being anywhere from 10 to 15k on average for each team. The expectation level and projection was very modest.
The XFL ratings have been painted in a negative light by some. However, as noted earlier in this column, those numbers don’t tell the real story. The same could be stated in reverse for the XFL’s attendance figures. The strong showing by St.Louis in week 3 helped propel the XFL to its highest weekly attendance total of 81,942. This is probably not a figure that the XFL can be expected to match or eclipse during the season.
The BattleHawks may keep up with or maybe even better their attendance figures later in the season, especially if additional seating is needed, which will be determined by demand.
The three markets to watch closely in the next few weeks are Tampa, New York, and LA.
The Wildcats play in a smaller stadium by comparison, so if their numbers stay in the 10-15k range. From an optics standpoint, it won’t look bad on television. The Wildcats are starting to claw their way back to respectability and contention.
Despite drawing over 18k for their home opener, the Vipers 0-3 start and their tumultuous situation with local favorite Quintin Flowers bears watching. Despite the beautiful weather, Tampa could have difficulty in maintaining the respectable figure they drew in their home opener.
New York is in a similar situation, despite only being three weeks in, things have gone sour for the franchise based on its non-competitive display in recent weeks. Winning is an elixir for potential attendance woes, and New York hasn’t been presenting an entertaining product thus far. If by midseason, they are entirely out of contention. The Guardians may struggle to even reach the 10k mark, despite spring weather being on the horizon.
MetLife Stadium and Raymond James are two world-class venues but are less than ideal stadiums for teams in a first-year pro sports league. From a TV standpoint, Tampa and New York are ideal locations. The two markets produced the highest-rated XFL game thus far on Fox. So the locations make sense and are of great value from that aspect.
The XFL hasn’t had many missteps during the building of the league. (no season-long fantasy football comes to mind), but having Tampa and New York play in the stadiums they are currently in, is undoubtedly one of them.
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