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Week 9 XFL TV Ratings On ABC, ESPN, And ESPN 2, As League Faces Competition From Returning USFL

The TV Ratings are in for Week 9 of the XFL Season—a week after scoring an average viewership of 760,000 viewers with three cable TV telecasts and a broadcast network game on ABC. The XFL came back in the penultimate week of their regular season with the same slate. However, what they encountered for the first time was direct competition for interest and eyeballs from a returning USFL.

The question coming into the weekend was how would the XFL fare in the Spring pro football league showdown after Week 8 delivered some of the strongest television ratings of the XFL season. At its peak, more than 2 million people watched the Roughnecks vs. Brahmas on ABC. Meanwhile, the Vipers vs. Battlehawks game on ESPN topped out at 1.18 million viewers.

Week 9 XFL TV Ratings On ABC, ESPN2, and ESPN.

On Saturday, the XFL kicked off the weekend unopposed, with a 12:30 PM eastern/11:30 am central timed ABC game between the Houston Roughnecks and Vegas Vipers. The telecast averaged 878,000 viewers.

Saturday night’s ESPN2 game at 7 pm ET between the Orlando Guardians and San Antonio Brahmas averaged 235,000 viewers. The telecast was rated 44th out of the top 150 Cable TV shows in the 18-49 demo.

The XFL broadcasts on ESPN2 have consistently been the cable network’s second-highest-rated weekly program since February.

The Orlando-San Antonio cable telecast went head-to-head with two USFL games on FOX. The tail end of the USFL’s opening afternoon game at 4:30 pm ET and the start of their primetime showcase game of the Birmingham Stallions and New Jersey Generals. The overlapping league games aired directly against each other from 7 ET until 10 pm ET. The returning USFL averaged 837,000 viewers in their afternoon game and 864,000 viewers in their primetime slot.

On Sunday, the XFL was back at noon ET on ESPN. Before a sold-out crowd, the D.C. Defenders defeated the Arlington Renegades in an overtime shootout. The game averaged 670,000 viewers on ESPN. The telecast was rated 10th out of 150 Cable TV shows in the 18-49 adult demographic.

The USFL, which aired the third over-the-air broadcast game of its opening weekend Sunday at the same time as the XFL on ESPN, averaged 974,000 viewers for their NBC telecast of the Michigan Panthers and Houston Gamblers.

The two leagues, XFL and USFL combined, averaged 1.64 million viewers during the Sunday head-to-head noon timeslot.

The final game of the XFL weekend between the St. Louis Battlehawks and Seattle Sea Dragons, Sunday at 3 pm ET on ESPN, averaged 570,000 viewers. The telecast was rated 17th out of the top 150 Cable TV shows in the 18-49 demo.

April 16 2023 The Seattle Sea Dragons Josh Gordon against the St Louis Battlehawks at The Dome at Americas Center on April 16th 2023 in St Louis MO © Dilip VishwanatXFL

Week 9 TV Ratings Analysis

The XFL has had a lot of hurdles and obstacles to overcome since relaunching in February. They have had to live up to their predecessor in 2020. While operating without the same media coverage or television exposure they had three years ago with a unique cable-centric/streaming package this go-round.

As well as encounter what the second iteration never faced, a changing viewing landscape with direct competition against March Madness and other tentpole mainstream sports events.

However, this past weekend provided a unique challenge for the XFL.

Fighting for attention from mainstream and casual sports fans is one thing, but what happens when you compete for fans with another entity that has a very similar product?

Do the two leagues have separate audiences? Perhaps that’s the case in red-hot markets for the XFL, like St. Louis and D.C., And would the niche audience be splintered with two similar leagues airing simultaneously?

We sort of got those answers this past weekend with the viewership numbers. But the real telltale sign will arrive in the future.

The three over-the-air network games gave the USFL a clear edge head-to-head with the XFL, who aired three cable telecasts. The USFL scored 3.162 million viewers for their four broadcasts (FOX twice, NBC, and FS1) in week one. The XFL had 2.35 million in their four games. (ABC, ESPN twice, and ESPN2).

The XFL’s quality of play has peaked in recent weeks. The football product has been stellar, and the league’s uptick in attendance has shown that. The XFL surpassed their season-high in weekly attendance in Week 9, with over 75,000 fans attending their games.

But when it comes to competing with the USFL’s opening weekend with three over-the-air network games versus only one on ABC this past weekend for the XFL. It’s not exactly a fair comparison of league interest for either side. This past weekend was a brief snapshot. And quite frankly, comparisons in earned media coverage are a significant factor in why the USFL has an advantage over the XFL.

A FOX primetime game versus an ESPN2 telecast should produce better viewership numbers. To compare the two is a false equivalency. But that won’t prevent certain parties from running with a specific narrative lacking contextual merit.

The fact that there are fans interested in both leagues is a plus. It’s great for the pro football landscape. Whether or not these leagues can grow in interest over time remains to be seen.

In the long run, the real test of the XFL’s value and potential will be how the league performs in its season finale championship game Saturday, May 13th, in primetime on ABC. Then they need to get to where the USFL has arrived, looking to build off year one in year two while trying to rope in more casual viewers who are hesitant to invest their time and energy in these leagues.

Proving long-term viability is the challenge.

XFL Week 10 TV Schedule

The XFL has a chaotic final weekend of the regular season upcoming. All four of their Week 10 games have playoff implications attached to them. Four teams are fighting for the last two playoff spots. And some unique NFL-borrowed scoring tie-breakers could come into play, where not only the outcomes matter, but the scores do as well.

For more on those head-splitting specifics. You can check out this article here.

The XFL’s TV schedule starts with a Saturday game at Noon on ESPN in St. Louis as the Battlehawks look to not only win at home against the Orlando Guardians but by as many points as possible while allowing as few points as they can.

The second game, Saturday afternoon on ABC, sees the D.C. Defenders in San Antonio face the playoff-desperate Brahmas, who must win to stay alive in the Southern division. Doing so will force Arlington to win their game Sunday afternoon on ESPN against the Houston Roughnecks.

The Week 10 Finale, Sunday night on ESPN2, carries the most intrigue of the weekend. Disney wisely flexed the game to an earlier time in the day, and it was initially scheduled for 9 pm ET/6 pm PT.

The Battlehawks will watch closely as they root on the Vegas Vipers to spoil the Sea Dragons’ playoff bid in Seattle. A Dragons victory alone could net them a playoff berth in the North Championship game, depending on what happens in STL. Seattle could have to win by a specific amount of points to gain entry into the playoffs. Making for a unique end to the XFL 2023 regular season.

Orlando Guardians@St. Louis BattlehawksSaturday, April 22

ESPN Xtra on Sirius/XM
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D.C. Defenders@San Antonio BrahmasSaturday, April 23
3:00 PM ET
ABC / ESPN+ / ESPN Deportes

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Houston Roughnecks@Arlington RenegadesSunday, April 23
:00 PM ET

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Vegas Vipers@Seattle Sea DragonsSunday, April 23
7:00PM ET

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I am a pro football writer who has extensively covered and reported on multiple leagues over the years. I started covering the XFL back in 2001. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ken Granito

    April 18, 2023 at 3:49 pm

    I’ll be honest. I have been more of an USFL fan than a XFL. The XFL has had good and bad. To me the leadership has been off, but you can expect that with novices. It’s a little like being a parent in that sometimes you don’t have to know everything as long as the love is there. The play was very uneven, though getting better, but players did their part for sure. You would think that would br the same thing, but the uneven and sometimes poor parts were caused by inexperienced coaching and VERY poor referees. That all stated, a lot of people poured out a lot of sweat and helped make me care about some of the games, despite the rest of it. That stated now that the USFL is here I will watch that and hope it is considerably better than this year’s XFL product. I will keep my ears opens and maybe even watch a game down the stretch as there really are a number of players I really admired. Hopefully with those players and the love of their ownership they will fix some of those mistakes. I really thought Rod Woodson was a great player, but I am unsure what gave him the experience to be a head coach. I think choices like that have to stop and it really showed.

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