Pegged to Disney’s Tuesday evening upfront presentation at Basketball City in New York, the XFL announcement was carried out onstage by league co-owners Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia. The second XFL revival is set to kick off on Feb. 18, 2023.
In the course of breaking the news, Johnson played the hype man role for the league, telling the assembled audience of advertisers and media buyers that the new-look XFL will “feature technological innovations designed to create a really unique viewing experience for fans all over the world and advertisers.”
Garcia, who serves as chairwoman of the XFL, leveled her portion of the pitch directly to the marketers in the crowd. “With your brands, we can co-create something that is truly special and iconic,” she said.
Johnson’s and Garcia’s introduction was muddled somewhat by a garrulous Eli Manning, who apparently forgot to remove his microphone after he and brother Peyton Manning were frog-marched offstage by a quartet of Imperial Stormtroopers. “This actually is my first rodeo,” Eli marveled from the wings, as the XFL duo launched into their spiel. (The Bros. Manning came to New York to promote three new offshoots of the Peyton’s Places franchise and the expansion of the popular Manningcast template to the realm of college football. The Stormtroopers were there to remind everyone that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise.)
In conjunction with Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital, Johnson and Garcia acquired the XFL in August 2020 for $15 million. The league, previously owned by Vince McMahon, filed for bankruptcy in April 2020 after the pandemic effectively ran a wrecking ball through its comeback effort.
Over the course of five weeks of action, McMahon’s enterprise averaged 2.15 million viewers on ABC and 1.46 million viewers on ESPN, while Fox’s coverage scared up 2.39 million viewers per game and FS1 averaged 1.05 million viewers. Under the previous TV deals, Disney and Fox did not pay the XFL a rights fee. In exchange for all the free weekend sports programming, the networks bankrolled the production of each broadcast, which cost on the order of $250,000 per game.
Ad rates for the first three XFL broadcasts in 2020 were around $70,000 per 30-second spot, a far cry from the $140,000 rate (about $230,000 in today’s dollars) that NBC charged for its primetime XFL opener back in 2001. That said, the scuttled XFL reboot commanded higher unit costs than the USFL is currently pulling in; per media buyers, the going rate for time in the latest spring-football resurrection effort is around $35,000 a pop on Fox and NBC.
Per terms of the new deal, which will run through 2027, the Disney-owned platforms will carry each of the XFL’s 43 games, a roster that includes the full regular-season slate as well as a pair of playoff matchups and the championship game. Financial terms were not disclosed.
While having The Rock in its corner gives the XFL a massive leg up on the promotional front, it remains to be seen if this version of spring football can succeed where so many others have failed. The USFL is already taking on water; after bowing April 16 to 3.07 million viewers and a 1.8 household rating across Fox and NBC, the TV turnout has nosedived.
NBC’s latest USFL broadcast averaged 905,000 viewers early Sunday afternoon, while Fox had a rough go of it later in the day (692,000). That Fox had to go toe-to-toe with Game 7 of the NBA Divisional Semifinals series between Boston and Milwaukee certainly didn’t help the USFL’s cause, as the Celtics’ 109-81 blowout of the Bucks averaged 7.48 million viewers on ABC. Thanks to the XFL’s relatively wintry schedule, Johnson & Co. should be able to sidestep any similar NBA tie-ups.)
Cable viewership for the USFL has been negligible, with USA Network averaging 419,000 viewers across its first four games, while FS1 has eked out 292,000 viewers over three games.