While the XFL may be back (under new ownership), the viewers haven’t necessarily followed so far. As per Jon Lewis at Sports Media Watch, the league’s first four telecasts this weekend all fell more than 50 percent in viewership from the opening weekend of the previous XFL incarnation (XFL 2.0) in 2020. It also didn’t stack up well against other recent spring football (the first XFL in 2001, the AAF in 2019, and the USFL last year):
Where the new XFL stacks up vs. prior spring football leagues: pic.twitter.com/reYzMHPkGX
— Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw) February 22, 2023
Lewis’ post on this has more details on the specific game-by-game comparisons. It is important to note that the USFL and AAF openers aired in primetime, not in the afternoon. But even with that said, the 1.54 million viewers for Saturday afternoon’s Vegas Vipers-Arlington Renegades opener was down 54 percent from the XFL opener in 2020 (Seattle Dragons-DC Defenders), which also aired in a Saturday afternoon slot on ABC.
Beyond that, the 54 percent drop here was actually tied for the lowest one of the weekend. It tied with ABC’s St. Louis Battlehawks-San Antonio Brahmas Sunday afternoon game, which drew 1.57 million viewers, down from the 3.39 million who watched the equivalent Fox window game (Tampa Bay Vipers-New York Guardians) in 2020. The weekend’s other games, Orlando Guardians-Houston Roughnecks and Seattle Sea Dragons-DC Defenders (the game seen at top), drew 1.14 million (ESPN and FX, Saturday night) and 918,000 (ESPN, Sunday night), down 65 percent and 63 percent respectively from those windows in 2020. Yes, the Saturday night game in 2020 (the Los Angeles Wildcats against the Roughnecks) was on broadcast Fox, but the Sunday one (the Battlehawks against the Renegades) was only on ESPN. (And this continues wider declines for spring football, with the USFL last year dropping from the 2020 XFL.)
All in all, this isn’t a great start for the new XFL on the TV front. It’s also not a great start for Disney’s exclusive broadcasting deal with the league. And the TV front is critical for these leagues, as they’re largely a made-for-TV product. In terms of in-person attendance, San Antonio led the way for the XFL with a reported attendance of 24,245, nearly double the amount reported at any other XFL venue. That’s certainly not insignificant, but the attendances elsewhere (all between 12,000 and 13,000) illustrate just how much this league (like most spring football) is about TV. We’ll see if the TV numbers get better for them going forward.
[Sports Media Watch; Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports]