The rebooted XFL debuted to strong initial television ratings and attendance for its opening weekend, marking a solid start for a league looking to reverse the historical trend of failed pro football startups.
The XFL’s first-ever game between the DC Defenders and the Seattle Dragons drew an average audience of 3.3 million viewers during its ABC broadcast, according to ESPN. Viewership peaked near the end of the game, with roughly four million viewers from 4:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET last Saturday.
XFL’s debut edged the first-ever broadcast for the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, which drew an average audience of just under 3.3 million viewers, according to Sports Business Journal. Viewership for the Defenders-Dragons game was comparable to that of ESPN’s Christmas Day broadcast of an NBA matchup between the Boston Celtics and the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
In terms of attendance, all four of the XFL’s games on opening weekend drew an announced crowd of more than 17,000 fans. The “get-in price” for the cheapest available ticket to the Defenders-Dragons game reached $130 on the secondary market, according to Sports Illustrated’s John Wall Street.
The XFL generated more ticket sales revenue prior to kickoff of its first games than the defunct Alliance of American Football generated during its entire inaugural season, according to The Action Network’s Darren Rovell.
The relaunched XFL features several new rules compared to the NFL, including a new format for kickoffs and the option to go for a three-point play after scoring a touchdown. Broadcast innovations from XFL’s TV partners at Disney-owned ESPN/ABC and Fox include real-time sideline interviews following big plays and access to team locker rooms during halftime.
The XFL will have to sustain its audience, both in the stands and on television, in order to avoid the fate of past leagues. The original XFL drew strong early attendance and ratings, only to collapse in 2001 after just one season due to dwindling interest.
Over the last several decades, the AAF, Arena Football League, United States Football League and United Football League all collapsed due to financial issues.
Week 2 of the XFL’s season kicks off Saturday.
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