The TV ratings are in for the opening weekend of XFL games on ABC, ESPN, and FX. All eyes were on how the returning XFL would fare after a three-year absence.
The results? The on field play and presentation was fantastic. The league is more immersive as ever from a fan/viewership aspect. However, capturing the same viewing numbers as 2020, didn’t happen.
XFL 2023: OPENING WEEK TV RATINGS ON ABC/ESPN/FX
XFL 2023’s opening game Saturday afternoon, February 18th, on ABC between the Arlington Renegades and Las Vegas Vipers averaged 1.57 million viewers.
The XFL’s Saturday Night simulcast on ESPN/FX, featuring the Houston Roughnecks and Orlando Guardians, averaged 751,000 viewers on ESPN and 390,000 viewers on FX. The combined viewership averaged 1.141 million viewers. The dual broadcasts were ranked 8th and 31st respectively out of 150 Cable TV shows in the 18-49 demo. All XFL 2023 games are also airing on ESPN+, viewership numbers for the streaming service were not made available as of press time.
Sunday afternoon’s last-second thriller on ABC between the St. Louis Battlehawks and San Antonio Brahamas averaged 1.53 million viewers.
The Sunday Night week one finale on ESPN saw the D.C. Defenders and Seattle Sea Dragons averaged 918,000 viewers. The telecast ranked sixth out of 150 Cable TV shows in the 18-49 demographic.
The XFL faced very stiff competition with the NBA All-Star Game (3.7 million viewers) on Sunday night, Tiger Woods and the PGA Genesis Open on the weekend (2.8 million/3.4) , and the Daytona 500 Sunday afternoon on FOX (8.1 million)
- Update 2/22/23: Both the XFL and ESPNPR sent out press releases on Wednesday afternoon, touting the engagement figures for the league in Week One.
- XFL OPENING WEEKEND DELIVERS WORLD-CLASS PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL FOR FANS,
- DRIVING SIGNIFICANT REACH AND STRONG ENGAGEMENT THROUGH TRADITIONAL, DIGITAL, AND SOCIAL CHANNELS
- 160 points scored in total (average 40 points per game), with three of the four games decided by four points or less
- The linear broadcast peaked at 2.3M on Sunday afternoon during San Antonio Brahmas vs. St. Louis Battlehawks matchup on ABC.
- The powerful combination of XFL, League ownership, and Disney/ESPN social channels generated over 300 million impressions and 235+ million video views.
XFL on ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes & FX
The four-game slate averaged 1.3 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and FX. In the P18-49 demographic, ESPN’s XFL coverage averaged 458,000 viewers. ESPN’s coverage over the weekend peaked during the St. Louis Battlehawks vs. San Antonio Brahmas matchup from 5:45 p.m.-6 p.m. ET on Sunday with 2.3 million on ABC. The matchup overall was the most-watched of the weekend, averaging 1.6 million viewers.
|Saturday||ABC||Vegas Vipers at Arlington Renegades||1.5 million|
|Saturday||ESPN, ESPN Deportes, FX||Orlando Guardians at Houston Roughnecks||1.1 million|
|Sunday||ABC||St. Louis Battlehawks at San Antonio Brahmas||1.6 million|
|Sunday||ESPN, ESPN Deportes||Seattle Sea Dragons at DC Defenders||934,000|
Player 54: Chasing the XFL Dream
The XFL docuseries, Player 54: Chasing the XFL Dream, re-aired Saturday on ABC, leading into the first game of the season between the Vegas Vipers and Arlington Renegades. The ABC airing averaged 696,000 viewers. The episode is also available on ESPN+.
Episode two will air Thursday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2 and will be available immediately after on ESPN+.
Week One Rating Analysis
One of the unique aspects of the XFL’s return in 2023 is judging how the league not only measures up to the current sports landscape but also how the league matched up to the previous XFL iteration three years ago.
A lot has changed in the viewing landscape since then. Viewing options, habits, and the streaming world has expanded immensely during that period. Even the new XFL has entered that lane. Every one of their 2023 games airs on ESPN+.
In 2020, the XFL kickoff game on ABC averaged 3.3 million viewers. The peak viewership was 4.0 million. The intriguing part is that the game was topped by the XFL’s Sunday afternoon network game on FOX, which averaged 3.39 million viewers–the largest audience for a non-NFL pro football game since week 6 of the original XFL in 2001 (3.67 million).
Then, there’s also the matter of the XFL’s neighbor in this space, the USFL, who aired games on FOX/NBC in 2022. And will do so again for a second season this April.
The USFL’s 2022 opening prime-time simulcast game averaged a combined 2.95 million viewers on FOX and NBC. 1.52 million on NBC and 1.43 million on FOX.
The AAF, back in 2019, averaged 3.25 million viewers with their debut telecast on CBS.
There are plenty of grey areas to focus on with XFL 2023’s TV ratings from opening week.
The league’s ratings showing in 2023 is a positive one. Even if the numbers come nowhere near close to three years ago. The expectations and projections by industry insiders suggested that they wouldn’t.
The ratings while respectable by the XFL, can be looked at as a disappointment. The reason why expectations were lower was because this iteration of the XFL scaled back promotions and marketing. There was far less anticipation and buildup for XFL 2023 than there was for XFL 2020. The buzz just wasn’t there like it was three years ago.
The new XFL has taken a somewhat more patient approach. While the 2020 version went all in on hitting markets, and ramping up their social media teams. Looking to make a strong first impression immediately. They also had two major networks promoting the league at the same time in 2020. (FOX/ESPN)
With the XFL in 2023, which produced an engaging product in week one, it’s all about how they finish rather than how well they start. They never got a chance to finish the last time. The league’s championship will air on ABC on May 13th. That telecast will be the ultimate test in measuring the XFL’s success. They need to match or surpass what they did in the opening week to prove their long time viability.
One of the unique quirks of the XFL’s broadcast schedule in 2023 is that the league will not have another ABC telecast scheduled until Week 6 of the season in late March. XFL games during that stretch will air on cable through ESPN, FX, and ESPN2.
As a result, the measuring stick for XFL TV ratings changes with no weekly network games as a comparison tool for a while. The Week 1 results stay frozen until then.
A significant factor in why Disney is back with the XFL is to help strengthen their live sports content library on FX and ESPN+—the overlooked components of the multi-year rights deal.
XFL 2023: Week Two Broadcast Schedule
Thursday, Feb. 23
St. Louis Battlehawks at Seattle Sea Dragons: 9 p.m. ET on FX, ESPN+
Saturday, Feb. 25
D.C. Defenders at Vegas Vipers: 8:30 p.m ET on ESPN, FX, ESPN+
Sunday, Feb. 26
San Antonio Brahmas at Orlando Guardians: 4 p.m. ET on ESPN, ESPN+
Arlington Renegades at Houston Roughnecks: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN+
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