"The Oscars Are On, That's Boring."
What I liked about Week 1 of the XFL, where I think they can improve, and how they can be creative to build momentum.
3.3 million viewers tuned into ABC for the return of the XFL featuring the Seattle Dragons traveling to our nation’s capital to take on the D.C. Defenders this past Saturday afternoon. This rating is not much of a shock being that when the XFL first debuted on a prime time slot back in February 2001, the new league was able to attract 14 million viewers who were anticipating how Vince McMahon was going to run a football organization with players having nicknames such as "He Hate Me" emblazoned on the back of their jerseys. A solid rating in Week 1 is not something to celebrate for long. The original XFL's ratings tanked after it's first week and last year’s Alliance of American Football wasn't able to last an entire season after debuting with 2.9 million viewers. The only way that the XFL can be successful is if it builds on it's early momentum and provides viewers with something captivating to watch that will keep their attention when March Madness and Spring Training baseball enter the fray.
Here's what I like about the new XFL, how I think they can do better, and what they can do to keep viewers tuning in.
Things I liked:
1. I love the new rules!
I thought that I would have difficulty understanding the new kickoff rules being that the kicker stands by himself on his side of the field, while the rest of the kicking team waits on the receiving teams side until the ball is caught by the returner. What resulted was a more exciting kickoff experience - and one that appeared much safer for the players. You better hope that your kicker has enough leg to make it past the twenty or your opponents will be starting on your 45. That's right, your 45. It gives kickers more pressure scenarios outside of hitting a last second field goal.
I also enjoyed there being no kick for the point after touchdown opting for one, two, or three point conversions from the two, five, and ten yard lines, respectively. Though the PAT risks were low in Week 1, hopefully there will be more high risk attempts in the weeks to come.
2. I like that anybody has a chance to win their box pool during XFL games
With extra points being more risky than in the NFL, anyone would have a chance to win a box pool for the XFL if they decided to play one during the regular season. It was very refreshing to see a professional football league so openly address gambling while showing point spreads and over/unders on their screen graphics. You will never see the NFL do this. And to that I ask, why? Did it really hurt the XFL to mention the Caesars Sports Book and FOX Bet on its telecasts?
3. I love Jerry Glanville's double headset and people on Twitter wondering if he left any tickets for Elvis
4. I like that the referees let the receivers and corners battle for the ball without calling any egregious pass interference calls
There are many occasions throughout an NFL season (if not every week) where you are left wondering how the officials determined a particular call was pass interference while not calling it on a different play that seemed like a more blatant foul. This happened as recently as Super Bowl LIV with George Kittle's offensive pass interference call prior to halftime that took the 49ers out of field goal range. The XFL referees were willing to let receivers fight for the ball. In addition, I could not think of one occasion the entire weekend where the referees took an extremely long time determining a penalty from what seemed so clear on the screen. I liked the transparency from the XFL's officiating crew and thought that the official in the booth's XBox controller added a nice touch.
5. Pat McAfee's Announcing
Whether podcasting, commentating, or hosting WWE shows - I always love the excitement and enthusiasm that Pat McAfee brings to the table.
Where They Can Improve:
1. Didn't really care for the extreme access
It's an interesting touch to listen to coaches deliver the play call to their quarterback, but is it really necessary to hear a coach announce a play call that just sounds like jibber-jabber to any casual football fan who is watching? I also did not feel that the XFL got off to a good start when the sideline reporter tried to interview Cardale Jones while he was warming up as I got the sense that the reporter did not want to disturb him. That in addition to an extremely loud stadium made most of the interview inaudible.
2. The constant interviewing of players
Though I found the initial f-bomb to be funny, the frequent interviewing of players during the game was very distracting. The locker room access in the small stadiums felt like I was watching a real life version of "Quarterback Attack with Mike Ditka".
The Bud Light Seltzer celebration was pretty cool though.
How the XFL can attract more fans:
After you read this you are going to think I am crazy - but there has to be some kind of attraction to entice fans to keep watching. February football is great, but it only seems to excite fans for one...maybe two weeks tops. To keep the ratings solid for several weeks, Vince McMahon should borrow something from his sports entertainment past.
Here me out on this. Now I know that the "Attitude" style of the XFL did not work the first time. But any wrestling fan of the mid '90's will recall the Monday Night Wars between Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation and Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling. With expiring contracts happening left and right, it was always exciting to see who could debut on each show at any given time.
What if in Week 2 the XFL, Fox, or the ESPN social media was to catch a shot of a limo pulling into the stadium. What if a highly touted NFL free agent was to exit that limo and head into the stadium? I don't think there is anything against NFL players making a paid personal appearance. What if that highly touted NFL free agent was Tom Brady? Do you think he forgot “Deflate-gate”? Now, I'm not saying that Tom Brady will ever go to the XFL. But if he were to show up to a stadium and be shown on camera sitting in a luxury box next to Vince McMahon, it would definitely get people talking. Especially Roger Goodell! That kind of exposure would be valuable to a young league. Make it seem like the XFL is where the best football players want to play. Once free agency hits in the second week of March, you may not be able to attract NFL Free Agents to make personal appearances, but that doesn't mean that you can't get a Joe Burrow or a Chase Young to make a paid appearance in Week 5 or 6 of the season. That would be around the beginning of March Madness. That is something that would make me change the channel from the round of 32. Just a little food for thought.
Will the XFL be able to continue delivering impressive ratings? Only time will tell.