What a turnaround. Three weeks ago the XFL posted ratings that were the highest NBC had received for a Saturday evening broadcast since it had the Olympics. Last week ratings fell to a 5.2 share, which was the league’s goal, and this weekend’s broadcast earned a very weak 3.8 share.
An even bigger problem is that the XFL is not keeping the young male demographic that it wanted. Rather than kids tuning in to see a WWF spectacle, the XFL seems most popular with older men hoping they might see a football game in between all the T&A shots. Unfortunately, that’s not the market that NBC promised to advertisers.
In today’s USA TOday, Rudy Martzke asks the obvious question: how serious is NBC’s two year, $100 million commitment? Probably not serious enough to stick with ratings this low.
Now things should get interesting. Vince McMahon knows how to get ratings, but the question is whether or not NBC will allow him to do the things that the XFL would need (i.e. pander, pander and pander some more) to really bring in the WWF audience. I was watching a documentary on McMahon the other day which explained how McMahon had emerged victorious after Ted Turner and the WCW almost destroyed the WWF.
McMahon’s solution — he could take the WWF into the sewer and garner ratings while Turner, because of his numerous partnerships and associations, simply couldn’t follow him there. Somehow I don’t think NBC will give McMahon the free reign he needs either.
Which is probably a good thing. In an interview a couple weeks ago, somebody asked McMahon about the cheerleaders and the sophomoric sexual innuendos that Jerry “The King” Lawler made on the initial broadcast, to which McMahon replied that it was impossible to have too much sex on television. Maybe not for the 11 and 12 year olds he markets the WWF to, but the XFL is often painful to watch because of these ridiculous antics (I should add that I simply don’t get wrestling either — a couple minutes of the current incarnation of the WWF is more than enough to completely disgust me).
I still think, however, that the idea of a small second tier football league is viable. A lot of the rules changes the XFL uses make a lot of sense and some of the broadcast methods the XFL uses are innovative, but need to be used more sparingly. For example, unlike a lot of critics of the broadcasts, I liked some of the sideline stuff, but it needs to be used more sparingly and to enhance the understanding of the game not for sheer shock value.
What is becoming clear is that the same thing that brought the XFL to life is the same thing that’s probably going to kill it: McMahon. On the one hand, few people aside from McMahon could step up and say he’s going to create a new football league out of nothing and be taken seriously. On the other hand, I think NBC probably underestimated what a liability McMahon’s involvement would be to the success of the XFL (i.e. most sports news outlets don’t take the league seriously, largely because of McMahon).
Unfortunately, when the XFL finally croaks it will probably mean the death knell for any attempt at an alternative league for decades to come.