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Sudden death for XFL

May 14, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In the end, even beefy, brawny Vince McMahon could not crunch the numbers to convince anyone that a second season of the XFL could be a good thing financially.
The World Wrestling Federation Entertainment chairman, the supremely confident creator of the smash-mouth football league, knew he was losing his biggest TV showcase, the Saturday night broadcast on NBC, which was reconsidering its 50-50 XFL partnership with WWFE.
Viacom-owned UPN was standing tough in its negotiations for a sophomore season-negotiations that some sources say may have coincided with the netlet’s ongoing quest to cut “WWF Smackdown!” by 30 minutes to give a boost to a sitcom. But it also reflected the feelings of key affiliates and the Viacom-owned Paramount station group that by the end of its 12-week run the XFL had become too tough a sell to viewers and advertisers. UPN’s Viacom sister network TNN, the XFL’s third TV partner, was a tag-along and not a significant player in the deliberations.
In addition, Mr. McMahon had been rudely rebuffed by The WB’s response to a last-minute suggestion that the female-friendly network might be interested in carrying XFL games.
Mr. McMahon, who remains in business with UPN with “Smackdown!” and “Manhunt”-the reality series that seems headed for a summer run-had no choice but to throw in the towel on the gyrating cheerleaders, the eight teams with menacing names and the conviction that a league wholly owned and managed from the top down could succeed where other alternative football leagues had failed.
Instead, after the marketing machines of the WWF and NBC drove more than 10 million viewers to the maiden game on NBC on Feb. 3, the XFL weekend triplecasts began to bleed viewers and advertisers.
After the stock market had closed Thursday, Mr. McMahon and Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, put on game faces and voices for a conference call with the press, which had regularly roughed up the XFL for everything from quality of play to WWF-style entertainment values, the losses of up to $70 million and the fatal ratings.
“The last couple of weeks, we were down to 1 household ratings,” said Greg Armstrong, vice president and general manager of Denver’s KTVD-TV, who said the station had racked up “pretty good” male demos in February.
“They did a masterful job of marketing it,” Mr. Armstrong said, “but the back-end just wasn’t there.”
“They came-and they just didn’t come back,” said Mr. Ebersol, who said he had known by early March that “it wasn’t going to work” in prime time.”
On Friday, at their headquarters in Stamford, Conn., WWFE executives were grappling with questions about the future of XFL staff, including league President Basil DeVito Jr., who had headed WWFE’s business-development team before launching the XFL on Mr. McMahon’s timetable of one short year.
“We’re working with everyone on transitioning,” a WWFE spokesman said.