XFL still work­ing to clinch TV con­tract

Stamford Advocate - - Front Page - By Paul Schott

STAM­FORD — Eleven months from kick­off, the XFL has its teams, host cities and many of its coaches. It does not have a TV deal — at least not yet.

XFL of­fi­cials said they are near­ing an agree­ment on a broad­cast­ing plan, which would be key to build­ing the league’s au­di­ence in the in­au­gu­ral 2020 sea­son of the re­booted pro­fes­sional foot­ball league, which was founded by WWE CEO Vince McMa­hon. In con­trast, how­ever, with the XFL’s first in­car­na­tion nearly 20 years ago, a me­dia land­scape trans­formed by dig­i­tal ad­vances means that TV rights on their own likely would not dic­tate suc­cess.

“The prob­lem/op­por­tu­nity for the XFL is that sports me­dia no longer works as it did even in 2002,” said Daniel Durbin,

di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s In­sti­tute of Sports, Me­dia and So­ci­ety. “You can’t guar­an­tee the fu­ture of your league by get­ting a con­tract with, say, NBC. So, there may not be an ideal net­work, in the tra­di­tional sense of the word, for the XFL.”

Prepa­ra­tions un­der­way

Fox and ESPN have been sug­gested as po­ten­tial broad­cast part­ners for the XFL, whose main of­fices are at 1266 E. Main St.

“We’ve had pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sions with main­stream me­dia out­lets and ex­pect to an­nounce our tele­vi­sion plans soon,” the league said in a state­ment. “Our goal is to make it easy for fans to find our games con­sis­tently ev­ery week­end when the XFL launches next Fe­bru­ary.”

Durbin sug­gested that part­ner­ing with a stream­ing pow­er­house such as Net­flix could cat­alyze au­di­ence growth.

“It could build up view­er­ship over that medium and brand it­self as the mav­er­ick, for­ward-think­ing foot­ball league,” Durbin said.

XFL would kick off at a time when the NFL still gen­er­ates mas­sive TV au­di­ences.

In the 2018 reg­u­lar sea­son, NBC Sports’ Sun­day Night Foot­ball av­er­aged 19.6 mil­lion view­ers, a 7 per­cent year-over-year in­crease.

The XFL would not di­rectly com­pete with the NFL be­cause its sea­son would start the week­end af­ter next year’s Su­per Bowl.

When the XFL’s re­turn was an­nounced in Jan­uary 2018, McMa­hon said fans would be able to

watch on “big screens, mo­bile devices and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.”

An es­ti­mated 14 mil­lion peo­ple watched the 2001 opener of the sole sea­son of the orig­i­nal XFL — which was broad­cast by NBC — but rat­ings soon dropped.

“Dig­i­tal de­liv­ery should ul­ti­mately make the big­ger im­pact, but you can­not com­pletely dis­miss the im­por­tance of tra­di­tional broad­cast, es­pe­cially as it re­lates to build­ing the league’s cred­i­bil­ity and its brand,” said Josh Shuart, chair­man of mar­ket­ing and sports man­age­ment at Sa­cred Heart Univer­sity.

Pre­par­ing to take the field

In the first sea­son of the re­boot, there will be XFL teams in eight cities: New York, Los An­ge­les, Hous­ton, Dal­las, Seat­tle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Those squads will play a 10game reg­u­lar sea­son, fol­lowed by play­offs that will in­clude semi­fi­nals and a cham­pi­onship game.

The new squads will play in ex­ist­ing sta­di­ums. The New York team will be based at MetLife Sta­dium, which is also the home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.

XFL of­fi­cials have said they would not use WWE tal­ent to fill its ros­ters. But they have not ruled out recruiting for­mer NFL play­ers such as Tim Te­bow and Colin Kaeper­nick.

“The big ques­tion is whether the XFL can at­tract mar­quee play­ers,” said Kevin McEvoy, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut. “What would make this re­ally com­pet­i­tive is if there were enough money in the XFL to pull in play­ers who would have oth­er­wise gone to the NFL. They wouldn’t go to the XFL un­less the money is there.”

Dur­ing the next few months, the league plans to sign quar­ter­backs and other skill-po­si­tion play­ers. In early fall, it plans to hold a draft, in which head coaches and gen­eral man­agers would make fur­ther ad­di­tions to their squads.

So far, the league has an­nounced head coaches for the Dal­las, Seat­tle, Tampa and Wash­ing­ton teams.

Other foot­ball leagues are also emerg­ing.

The Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball launched last month, sup­ported by agree­ments with CBS and TNT.

An­other pro­posed com­pe­ti­tion, the Free­dom Foot­ball League, was also re­cently an­nounced. Its 10 teams would in­clude a “Con­necti­cut Un­der­ground” squad, although the league’s web­site does not spec­ify where in the state the team would play.


Tri­bune News Ser­vice

XFL Com­mis­sioner and CEO Oliver Luck speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence on March 5 at Raymond James Sta­dium in Tampa, Fla. Luck, along with oth­ers, spoke dur­ing the an­nounce­ment that Marc Trest­man was named head coach of the Tampa Bay XFL team. Trest­man is a for­mer head coach in the NFL and CFL.

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