Super Bowl LIV has come and gone, and NFL teams can officially focus on the offseason and turn their attention to the 2020 season. That means football fans can relax for a few months until the touchdowns and big hits begin again in July and August, right?
Football fans have another avenue to get their fix from February through April, and it’s not the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, or AAF, which lasted less than a season in 2019.
It’s a new world for football fans to explore: the XFL. The Vince McMahon-led league made its debut on numerous networks throughout the weekend following the Super Bowl, and had a solid audience showcase their interest in the first slate of games.
In numbers released a few days following the league’s debut, the game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Los Angeles Wildcats on Saturday, February 8 averaged 3.29 million viewers, while the battle between the Tampa Bay Vipers and the New York Guardians averaged 3.385 million viewers the following day.
Meanwhile, the DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons averaged 3.3 million viewers on ABC, and the Dallas Renegades and St. Louis Battlehawks averaged 2.495 million viewers on ESPN on Sunday.
In either promising or ominous news for the XFL, those numbers, in most cases, exceeded the ratings for the AAF’s first on-field action in February of 2019, which averaged 2.9 million viewers in its primetime debut on CBS.
McMahon knows a thing or two about ratings not meaning a thing in Week 1 if they don’t translate to Week 2, considering the league’s first go-around back in 2001 had an impressive first week with a 10.3 Nielsen rating for its debut game on ABC, followed by a 5.1 rating the week after, and then declines to 3.8 in the third week, and 2.9 in the fourth.
In this instance, however, there are other positive numbers for the league to look at as it measures its impact and influence on the professional sports scene.
For one, ticket sales are already high, with Darren Rovell reporting that the league had already exceeded the ticket sales revenue that the AAF generated in an entire season.
The league’s social presence has been off to a hot start, adding more than 600,000 followers on its numerous social channels in January as the brand built towards its debut, according to Front Office Sports. In addition to that, they grew by 200,000 to 300,000 followers in just two days following the Super Bowl, a 48-hour span that could be a sign of things to come for the upstart league.
How’d they do that? They recognized the opportunity that would arise as football fans prepared to enter hibernation in the moments following the NFL’s finale, and successfully competed with MLB for sports fans’ attention in the process.
The XFL managed to fire off a “Now it’s our turn” tweet as the action ended down at Hard Rock Stadium following the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory over the 49ers, which was followed up five minutes later by the official MLB Twitter account, who posted “Our turn.”
Just 12 hours after the Super Bowl, the XFL’s tweet had more than 18,000 more likes and just 2,000 less retweets than the MLB tweet, despite the XFL having just over 350,000 Twitter followers on February 12 and the MLB account holding more than eight million followers on the same date.
The interest is there, but sustained success can be tough for any brand to have. Ratings fluctuate, and McMahon knows that from his countless years at the helm for WWE programming on the USA Network, and recent months with FOX.
Even the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL deal with ratings slumps, but the difference is the consistent high numbers when it matters.
Can the XFL keep things up and last a few years in the process, creating some competition for the NFL to work with as a result? Time will tell, but if early numbers keep up, it’ll be tough to ignore what has turned into quite the success story in recent weeks.