Smash-mouth XFL sees its ratings get smushed

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The steep drop-off in XFL viewing since its debut three weeks ago has put the rookie football league on the offensive to do all it can to make sure advertisers get their money’s worth.
The XFL insists the free extra runs advertisers will get starting this weekend are not what the industry calls “make-goods” because, said a spokesman, “It’s reaching out to advertisers in advance.”
“The XFL is working with our advertisers to deliver … the audience they purchased,” said Basil DeVito Jr., president of the XFL. The organization controls the XFL commercial inventory and sales but shares the ad revenue with its TV partners NBC, UPN and TNN, whose games averaged a combined 5.5 rating last weekend. That figure is down 36 percent from Week 2 and the 10-point combined rating advertisers were told they could expect when they paid $140,000 for a weekend’s worth of 30-second spots going into the season.
“We’re doing everything we can in advance,” said Mr. DeVito. “We’d like to be doing better.”
The commercial tempest swirled only a day after Jack Sander, the straight-talking head of NBC’s affiliates advisory board, said that while it was too early to jump to any fatal conclusions, “I think everyone is disappointed” in the performances on the second and third weekends of the football league co-owned by NBC and World Wrestling Federation Entertainment.
“Everybody is concerned about the fast decline in the ratings,” Mr. Sander said last week.
Mr. Sander is also the executive vice president of media operations for Belo, which has two NBC affiliates in the Pacific time zone and one in the Mountain time zone, where the question is not where the XFL ratings roller coaster will take the network and its affiliates but whether it might have a negative impact on local programming if the games run long, as happened in the first two weeks.
“The overrun issue is almost as important as everything else. … Being able to do your news is very critical, and being able to do it on time is important,” said Mr. Sander. He added that if there is not a significant improvement in Saturday night XFL ratings, Western stations may ask the network to allow them to show the games on tape delay to protect early Saturday newscasts.
If a second XFL season is to be viable, Mr. Sander said, the ratings on NBC will have to bounce back to between a 3.5 and 4.5 Nielsen Media Research household rating, the latter being what the network had projected for Saturday nights. The XFL NBC broadcast opened with a 10.3/17 and by last Saturday had dropped to 3.1/6.
“I don’t think it can work at last Saturday’s levels,” Mr. Sander said. “Nobody would say we could live with that.”
Tom DeCabia, media buyer with Schulman/Advanswers NY, said he thinks the ratings and demographics are only going to get worse for the XFL, which started its 10-week regular season the weekend after the NFL’s Super Bowl, during “kind of a dead sports period.” The league faces “much stiffer competition” with the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament and the beginning of the Major League Baseball season.
Might viewers come back for the XFL playoffs and the April 21 championship game?
Mr. DeCabia said it’s unlikely given that “the other buzz on this stuff is that it’s not even good ball. These are truly minor league players.”
An NBC Sports spokesperson said, “We’re three weeks into the season. We’ve always said it was going to be a work in progress. Nobody said it was going to be a cakewalk.