The XFL announced a major TV deal on Monday. It plans to broadcast games on ABC, ESPN, Fox and Fox Sports 1 when the league launches in February 2020. That should be good news for bettors looking to extend their football action into the spring.
Even from the beginning, XFL founder and chairman Vince McMahon has made clear that sports betting will be a focus of the league.
In his initial news conference announcing the league’s relaunch, McMahon hinted at the importance of sports betting and fantasy. He later affirmed that on Twitter.
“Our approach to presenting games will be multiplatform,” he noted, “which will allow us to engage fans and customize the viewing experience in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.”
An XFL gaming partner has yet to be named.
Sports betting will be an emphasis
With coverage on major networks, however, it’s a good bet that casino books and others may offer action. MGM, FanDuel, DraftKings and several other operators offered odds on AAF games before the league went defunct after eight weeks.
Football attracts 36% of all sports betting in the US. The chance to extend that into the spring may be enticing for many bettors and sportsbooks.
The Alliance’s much-ballyhooed, live-game technology now seems a bit of an afterthought. The league may have missed a major opportunity by not offering a true fantasy football game as well.
XFL officials may want to consider the more than 59 million playing fantasy football each year. Carrying over some of those players to the XFL could offer some hope of staying power.
The TV deal offers a chance to reach a vast audience.
Unlike the Alliance, more than half of the league’s games will appear on network TV. The Alliance featured games on NFL Network, TNT, CBS Sports and B/R Live.
But many fans were often left searching search the networks for the afternoon game. Of the XFL’s 40 regular season and three postseason games, 24 will be featured on ABC or Fox.
“We are thrilled to partner with ESPN and Fox Sports, two innovative media companies with extensive experience in world-class football production that will undoubtedly help us reimagine football,” McMahon said in announcing the deal.
“The XFL broadcast schedule provides us with incredible reach and makes it easy for fans to watch our games consistently every weekend.”
A focus on appointment network viewing
League officials believe a path to success will be regular appearances on network TV. Rather than a scattershot approach, viewers can expect appointment TV as part of the league’s television schedule.
The XFL has also locked game times in place for the inaugural season. The schedule features two games each on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The 10-game regular season begins Feb. 9, 2020, and ends April 12. Here’s a look at what to expect:
- Saturdays: Games at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST. The early games will be on ABC and the late games on Fox.
- Thursday: Saturdays two Fox games will be moved to Thursday in Week 9 and 10 at 8 p.m. EST. The network also carries Thursday night NFL games.
- Sundays: Games at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. EST, varying among ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox and FS1.
- Playoffs: Saturday, April 18, on Fox, and Sunday, April 19, on ESPN. Both games are at 3 p.m. EST.
- Championship: Sunday, April 26, at 3 p.m. EST on ESPN.
The McMahon funds the entire league. The WWE already has a relationship with Fox, after signing a five-year deal moving its SmackDown Live show to Fox in October. The WWE also recently announced a new studio show on FS1.
Spring football hasn’t shown any staying power since the United States Football League (USFL), but networks are giving the wrestling impresario a shot.
A large broadcast footprint
The new deal offers the XFL a chance to be seen on several major networks. However, ProFootballTalk.com notes that doesn’t include rights fees.
Instead, networks pick up the costs of production, believed to be about $400,000 per game. In contrast, the AAF paid broadcasters to air its games.
If the league produces ratings and succeeds, rights fees may be negotiated down the line. The eight-team league hosts franchises in:
- Los Angeles
- New York
- St. Louis
- Tampa Bay
- Washington, D.C.
The XFL plans 45-man rosters and hopes to speed up the game with a shorter game clock and fewer interruptions.
It also has some differences from the AAF. The league seems to be distancing itself more from the NFL and show some willingness to alter rules.
Another planned league initiative gives the XFL a chance to develop some of its own stars. The league plans to allow players not eligible for the NFL draft to play.
Players willing to forgo college have a shot at a nice payday before entering the NFL. A talented player out of high school looking for a couple of years making six figures may head to the XFL instead.
Ultimately, the league’s success will probably come down to the quality of play on the field. League advisors include former NFL coaches Jim Caldwell and John Fox, and former NFL, CFL and USFL quarterback Doug Flutie.
When it comes to building a league that lasts, former AAF Arizona Hotshots head coach Rick Neuheisel offered some advice.
“At the end of the day,” he told TMZ Sports, “you gotta have enough financing.”
At least initially, McMahon seems to be making that commitment.