Those who think the shriveling national ratings for the XFL tell the whole story are not talking to the UPN stations who emerged from the February sweeps with significant year-to-year improvements in their Sunday XFL game slots, particularly in the hyper-sellable men 18 to 34 demo.
Those who think that as NBC goes, so goes the mindset of the XFL’s other TV partners are not listening to members of the UPN family who last week began talks about how to make a second season of XFL programming work for them.
The stations know how important survival of the “smash-mouth” XFL is to the man who conceived it, World Wrestling Federation Chairman Vince McMahon.
Indeed, the XFL expansion committee scouted facilities in Washington and Detroit last week, and the league launched a ferocious print, TV and radio ad blitz that will continue through its championship game on NBC April 21.
Yet Mr. McMahon has begun publicly acknowledging that he can’t expect NBC, which he took in as 50-50 partner in the football league, to stick with a franchise that two weeks ago went into the record books as the lowest-rated prime-time broadcast ever on a major American network, with an average 1.6 rating/3 share. Mr. McMahon’s original XFL business model was built on having UPN and a basic cable channel as outlets. TNN is still registering year-to-year ratings growth with its Sunday afternoon games.
While the UPN franchise’s eight-week national average was a 1.5/3, the games were averaging significantly better than that in numerous markets.
In Tulsa, Okla., KTFO-TV racked up 1000 percent year-to-year growth in men 18 to 34. That prized demo grew 750 percent on Pittsburgh’s WNPA-TV, 617 percent on Cleveland’s WUAB-TV, 600 percent on Columbus, Ohio’s WWHO-TV, 400 percent on Indianapolis’ WNDY-TV, 491 percent on Honolulu’s KFVE-TV, and 480 percent on Anchorage’s KYES-TV.
There are numerous other UPN success stories, but perhaps none as rueful as that told by Marty Ozer, an affiliate board member and vice president/general manager of KAME-TV in Reno, Nev. His sales staff was “very aggressive” about pricing local spots in the XFL games and then began giving make-good spots to advertisers when Mr. Ozer saw the national ratings plummet over the first few weeks. However, when the Nielsen diaries for Reno came in last week, Mr. Ozer saw 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s where he’d seen 1s the year before.
Mr. Ozer’s assessment of the XFL as UPN programming is “terrific.”
While he said “We are in full support of the XFL,” and he thinks “the franchise is that much more valuable if NBC is out of the picture,” he also wonders if regionalized games scheduled to start in mid-afternoon Eastern time wouldn’t attract more viewers-and respect from the press. Dave Hanna, president and general manager of Lockwood Broadcast Group and president of the UPN affiliate association, said key questions about a second XFL season include “who will distribute it and how much of it will be out there.”
“I’m not sure if there is too much or too little exposure of the XFL at this point,” Mr. Hanna said. Nevertheless, he’s “expressed an interest in having the network find out what its affiliates want it to do.”
UPN chief operating officer Adam Ware said, “UPN affiliates know what it takes to build new ventures, and that starts with support and optimism. UPN would not exist today, nor would there be consideration about a second year for the XFL, if this didn’t exist.“We’ve just begun to analyze this year’s performance. We have an excellent overall relationship with the WWF, and we will look at next year in this context.”