With the debut of the XFL this past weekend, football bettors had an opportunity for more action. Sportsbooks, fans, and the league seemed pleased with Week 1 despite some hiccups.
Both DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook reported promising handle numbers on the games with action growing from Saturday to Sunday. Whether that continues remains to be seen, but many in the industry will be watching.
Expect the lines to shift
With one week in the books, where do the lines go from here? Johnny Avello, director of sportsbook at DraftKings, spoke with TheLines about the challenges of setting odds for a new league.
Avello was pleased with the play on the field and action from bettors.
“I thought it went pretty well for the first week,” he said. “I like the format and some teams panned out and did pretty much what we thought they’d do and some didn’t get the job done.
“Overall I thought the league was well received and the players bet on it. Did they bet like an NFL game? No, but I think they were happy to have some kind of football, another event available to wager on.”
With a new league, Avello and other bookmakers will at least have some idea about talent levels of teams. They can now alter their previous favorites and predictions for Week 2.
“Looking at quarterback performances can be a big part of that,” Avello says. “Cardale Jones (DC Defenders) and PJ Walker (Houston Roughnecks) looked the best at the position.”
He pointed to coach June Jones’ offense in Houston as something to watch as the season develops.
“I’m looking for quarterbacks who might be able to run the football,” he says. “It looks like those guys might have a little bit of an edge.”
After seeing some high-scoring games in Week 1, Avello said books will adjust over/unders higher. Seeing the teams play and now with a week of experience, he predicts more scoring.
“These totals are all going to be around 50 points – somewhere in the 48- to 50-point range,” he said. “I think that’s where we need to be right now.”
Change in XFL futures betting
The Dallas Renegades began the season as the favorite to win the title. However, the Dallas offense looked anemic on Sunday and moved down in futures betting. By Monday, the DC Defenders moved to the top at +300 after an impressive performance in Week 1.
“The Dallas team got a slow start and we were expecting to see a lot more from them,” Avello said. “We look for them to play a little bit better game against the LA Wildcats, who lost by 20 to Houston.”
The Renegades weren’t able to play quarterback Landy Jones, who is still suffering from a knee injury. Avello hasn’t given up on Dallas yet and is looking forward to see how Jones performs.
Futures betting saw some shuffling on Monday.
“We raised what we should have raised and we lowered what we should have lowered,” Avello said, “and some we just kind of had minimal moves because we think those teams are going to get better.”
Here’s a look at the XFL futures odds:
St. Louis BattleHawks
Tampa Bay Vipers
X marks the spot for bettors
One thing became clear over the weekend – bettors are still open to wagering on football. The FanDuel Sportsbook in New Jersey reported 20 times the handle for the first XFL game versus the first game last year of the Alliance of American Football.
The book also saw an increase in XFL action from Saturday to Sunday. Handle on XFL games increased 55% from Saturday to Sunday and bet count increased 31%.
The game featuring the New York Guardians received the most handle. The team plays in the Meadowlands in New Jersey, which may have boosted interest and bets into the final game of the weekend.
DraftKings Sportsbook reported similar numbers with the Guardians receiving the largest handle and number of bets. That was followed by the Dallas Renegades and the Tampa Bay Vipers.
A look at the numbers may offer insight into how big a betting market there is for the league. According to DraftKings, both Saturday games had 1.4 times handle than the 2019 Hall of Fame NFL preseason game.
Those games also had about 10% of the handle of the first 2019 NFL regular season game. While these aren’t massive numbers, they show there may be interest in winter/spring league football betting.
No doubt XFL officials hope those numbers continue to grow – turning bettors into fans and viewers.
Networks pleased with ratings, but will it last?
One thing Vince MacMahon’s XFL has had in its favor is its television deal. Games are featured on FOX, ABC, and ESPN at consistent times.
That includes two games each on Saturday and Sunday. While not NFL caliber, fans were treated to a level of play that seemed superior to last year’s failed AAF.
That translated to nice network ratings. USA Today notes that the opening game between Seattle and DC drew an average of 3.3 million viewers. That peaked at 4 million near the game’s end.
The broadcasts were generally solid with sideline access for networks and frequent player and coach interviews throughout the game.
A key to the league’s success is if it can retain those numbers. The AAF received nice numbers during its first week, but those tapered off later in the season.
The XFL does have a key advantage – all games are on bigger networks than the Alliance. Avello believes the betting interest will grow and that may help with ratings.
One thing was clear watching the games – the league is going after sports bettors. Betting was a frequent topic of conversation on broadcasts and the over/under was visibly displayed on screen.
A look at the XFL gameday experience
In the stadium, fans seemed enthusiastic and attendance averaged 17,455. The Houston Roughnecks led the league with 17,815 at TDECU Stadium.
Attendance for all four @xfl2020 Week 1 games:
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) February 10, 2020
A positive sign may have been that the Roughnecks opened up two additional sections to meet demand. Those totals are solid numbers for a startup league. But like television ratings, it will be interesting to see if the games can sustain that and even build on those numbers.
In Dallas, it was apparent that the league was going for fast football in a fun environment. The Renegades offered local bands and other activities before the game.
Fans seemed to embrace the efforts and there was quite a bit of tailgating before the game. The Renegades play in Globe Life Park, the former home of the Texas Rangers, which has been repurposed for football.
Most of the lower section was full and fans seemed into the game, despite some low scoring and dull play from the home team. There was a rock concert feel with plenty of music between snaps.
Overall, fans seem pleased with the experience. However, the Dallas game featured a negative seen at other stadiums. The empty second and third-level seats make the place look cavernous.
Filling smaller stadiums would give the look of a more robust crowd.
Will the league’s early success continue? Avello is positive and thinks the league may have found a nice opening in the sports schedule.
“The Week 2 matchups are pretty good,” he said. “People are still interested in football and I think Week 2 will be better than Week 1. The only time these guys might run into a little bit of a decline may be around March Madness, but otherwise I see this thing continuing to grow.”