SBJ/March 26 - April 1, 2001/This Weeks Issue

Ratings-starved XFL piles on to costs with ad campaign

The XFL has launched an all-out advertising blitz to raise rock-bottom TV ratings, a move that stands to add to the league's rising start-up costs that could reach $60 million this year.

XFL officials refused to put a cost on their advertising campaign that began last Friday. With just a month left in the XFL's season, the league's future with partner NBC could be resting on whether the campaign sparks any interest in viewers who have turned away in droves since the league launched Feb. 3.

The league is co-owned by the World Wrestling Federation and NBC, which broadcasts XFL games in prime time Saturday nights. The XFL also is broadcast on Sunday afternoons on TNN and Sunday nights on UPN. Prior to the XFL's new marketing campaign, analysts predicted the league could lose up to $60 million, double what the league originally forecasted.

"[The advertising campaign] is going to be above and beyond what we've already been doing with our broadcast partners," said XFL spokesman Jeff Shapes. "We'll be doing national and local print advertising, local radio and national television."

Ratings on NBC's March 17 broadcast in the league's seventh week generated a lowly 1.6 rating, continuing the league's ratings plummet from a 9.5 during the XFL's opening game. The 1.6 is the lowest-rated prime-time sports broadcast ever, surpassing a Stanley Cup Finals broadcast last year on ABC that generated a 2.3 rating. XFL games broadcast on TNN are averaging a 0.9 rating, while games on UPN are averaging a 1.6. Ratings for the XFL's eighth week were not available at press time.

Despite the aggressive advertising plan, XFL ratings could get even worse given that the fledgling league goes up against the NCAA men's basketball tournament for another week.

Because the XFL has been unable to deliver a promised 4.5 rating to advertisers, it has been giving away "make-good" spots, driving up the losses that are split between NBC and the WWF.

Last week, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said NBC wouldn't pull the plug on this year's XFL schedule. But unlike earlier in the season when ratings began to slide, Zucker refused to comment on whether NBC would keep its two-year commitment to the league.

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