The relaunch of Vince McMahon’s XFL Spring football league took place this weekend to good reviews and a strong TV start for the league. Now, the real question is: can it sustain where it failed 19 years ago?
First, the good news. The XFL debut game of the D.C. Defenders and former Ohio State star QB Cardale Jones defeating the Seattle Dragons had an impressive 3.3 million average audience Saturday afternoon on ABC network TV:
The final numbers are in for @xfl2020 opening weekend on ESPN/ABC
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) February 10, 2020
If you’re wondering, that number actually beat the debut 52 weeks ago of the Spring Alliance of American Football, which showed a split feed doubleheader on CBS network tv on Saturday night yet only registered 2.9 million in average audience in prime time.
Now, as with the AAF’s case last year and the XFL on Saturday, Spring football was the most-watched sport of that day on any network, over the air or cable. And, that included ESPN’s showing of the intense Duke-North Carolina dramatic overtime college hoops game that was on ESPN in the evening and only registered an average of 2.6 million.
Back to the XFL debut weekend. The second game on Saturday was the Houston Roughnecks hosting the L.A. Wildcats on Fox and it registered a solid 2.8 million fan average.
So, while that was not quite as impressive as the ABC number, it is still strong and was the second-best number of any sports television audience Saturday.
Then came Sunday, when Fox had its second broadcast of the XFL, as the New York Guardians (above) played host to the Marc Trestman coached/Aaron Murray quarterbacked, Tampa Bay Vipers.
This game did not perform as well in the early afternoon slot as the Saturday game on ABC and part of that was due to the one-sided outcome, especially in the fourth quarter where the Guardians were leading 23 – 3.
Fox sports said Monday night the game registered a national 2.6 rating on major market ratings, but that number could go up higher on Tuesday. That number is roughly a 2.3 million national average, right now.
The XFL weekend concluded with St Louis defeating the Dallas Renegades and coach/GM Bob Stoops his professional debut. That game scored an average audience of 2.5 million, which is sold on cable, but everyone knew would be less than network games more easily available.
Finally, here’s some perspective: once the AAF games went to lesser known CBS Sports Network cable (some in prime time) and also on the NFL Network, they never got back to the 2 million mark in average audience. That slide was predicted, but it also was costly. The league eventually shut down after week eight with it’s new owner/benefactor Thomas Dundon claiming he had lost over 70 million dollars in six weeks.
And, the lesson McMahon also learned with his XFL in 2001. That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating. That translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV debut.
However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on Saturday night’s on NBC.
That was audience and revenue disaster for McMahon, NBC and the league, as they watched it all unravel in a few short weeks.
This time, the deals are to have the games on in the weekend afternoons with three of them on network TV every week. It’s less risky for all.
Further, in 2020, McMahon has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings do come down some or significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.
At least, that’s what we think.
Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener
Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.
Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.
The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.
However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.
Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.
Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.
Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.
The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.
Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.
The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.
The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.
However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.
And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.
QB Murray out again for XFL Vipers home opener
For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL will have to go with backup quarterbacks in place of the injured, Aaron Murray.
As the Vipers get set to take on Houston in their inaugural home game Saturday afternoon, the XFL made official that Murray will miss his second game due to his lingering foot injury suffered in week one.
Murray has been unable to practice the last two weeks and that means,Tampa Bay will likely turn to Taylor Cornelius for the second straight week to start in his place. Cornelius was shaky a week ago in Seattle completing only 16 – 27 for 154 yards and two INTs, as the Vipers fell to 0- 2 with an 17-9 defeat to the Dragons.
Tampa Bay has yet to score an offensive touchdown in either of its first two games, and the Vipers may look to play former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers more (above) in this one Saturday. While not a traditional pocket passer, but more of a dual-threat, exceptional runner, Flowers has played sparingly in the Vipers first two games.
A week ago in Seattle, Flowers was just 3 – 7 for 43 yards in the air with a “pick six” as a Seattle defender leaped in the air and intercepted his pass at the Vipers one yard line and fell in the endzone.
Flowers also ran 5 times for 15 yards in the loss. He is obviously a fan favorite in the Tampa area having starred at USF in 2016-17.
If there is such a thing as a “hot seat” after only two games in the rebirth of the XFL, Tampa Bay coach Marc Trestman is clearly on it, as offense is supposed to be his forte’. Yet, the Vipers have not been able to sustain much of anything in their two losses to New York and Seattle scoring a total of 12 points.
Saturday’s home opener at Raymond James Stadium will be the first Spring football professional game in the Tampa Bay Area since the final season of the USFL and Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits played at the old Tampa Stadium in 1985.
News1 week ago
XFL Vipers QB Murray ruled out- Quinton Flowers to start Saturday?
News3 days ago
Report- new 17th game for NFL teams will all be International
Tampa Bay Buccaneers7 days ago
Peter King- “Bridgewater to Tampa Bay makes sense”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1 week ago
NFL analyst- Bucs DE Shaq Barrett top player in free agency