ABC Surpasses 3.0 Million Viewers For Debut XFL Broadcast
ABC averaged 3.3 million viewers for the XFL debut on Saturday afternoon, which saw the DC Defenders defeat the Seattle Dragons 31-19. That figure is flat compared to what the Alliance of American Football averaged for its regionalized primetime opener on CBS last year on the same weekend. ABC’s XFL telecast on Saturday, which began at 2:00pm ET, peaked with 4.0 million viewers from 4:45-5:00pm. Seattle-Tacoma led all markets with a 6.4 local rating, followed by Cleveland-Akron with a 4.6. Some other recent sporting events that drew 3.3 million viewers include Navy-Kansas State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 on ESPN and Celtics-Raptors on ESPN on Christmas Day. In a similar 3:00-5:00pm window last year, ABC averaged 595,000 viewers for "Winter X Games Anthology" (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Michael David Smith noted the XFL has a "much better TV deal than the AAF had." The "big question facing the XFL is whether it can hold onto that Day One audience or perhaps even grow as the season goes on" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 2/9).
STRONG IN THE BOOTH: THE ATHLETIC's Bill Shea wrote ABC's Steve Levy and Greg McElroy "did a serviceable job in the booth" for Dragons-Defenders on Saturday. The pair "hyped the product without cheerleading." Sideline reporter Dianna Russini "spent three hours madly chasing players and coaches on the sidelines for in-game interviews," but ABC/ESPN "need to be more tactical with such segments" going forward. Meanwhile, on Fox' L.A. Wildcats-Houston Roughnecks broadcast Saturday, Curt Menefee's "veteran presence in the booth" gave the game "instant credibility." He and Joel Klatt were "solid." Sideline reporter Brock Huard's in-game interviews "were fewer and not as frantic as ABC's scrambling." Overall, Fox had a "less kinetic broadcast," but an "equally enjoyable" one. Shea: "I absolutely love that the TV audience can hear the officiating crew discussing penalties and that there are cameras and microphones inside the replay booth. Viewers get to see the sausage made" (THEATHLETIC.com, 2/9). In Pittsburgh, Bob Maddamma noted Greg Olsen was part of Fox' coverage of the Tampa Bay Vipers-N.Y. Guardians game yesterday, and he "seemed like a natural, offering interesting insight without any awkward lulls." Olsen "wants to continue his NFL career," though it "looks like he's got a nice fallback plan" (DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com, 2/9).
THE PERILS OF LIVE TV: In Richmond, Michael Phillips noted the XFL "views the TV product as critical to its success." Saturday's Dragons-Defenders broadcast "dazzled early, with a sequence where fans listened in on the refs discussing a key personal-foul penalty, the Defenders blocking a punt for a touchdown after the penalty was administered, then a Seattle player who was caught in the scrum delivering a family-unfriendly word during an in-game sideline interview" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 2/9). YAHOO SPORTS' Cassandra Negley wrote live player interviews is a "fun idea to give viewers an immediate look at what happened on a key play or insight into what may be in the game plan later on." But doing it live "isn't always going to net the best results, especially when the players aren't used to having to censor themselves." Then again, it "might just be what people tune in for" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/9).
WORKING IN GAMBLING CONTENT: THE ATHLETIC's Richard Deitsch writes he appreciates "how well the incorporation of sports gambling information worked in the graphic elements." ABC/ESPN's graphic use of the over/under line as part of its score bug was "unobtrusive and a valuable piece of information" (THEATHLETIC.com, 2/10). Levy and McElroy "made a point of referencing gambling early and often, preparing for a day in the near future where fans will be able to bet on games, legally, from their phones while they watch" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 2/9).
APPOINTMENT VIEWING: ESPN's Mike Golic said with the AAF, "you had no idea where you could find the game or see the game, and here it was very easy, whether it was ABC, ESPN or Fox." ESPN's Jason Fitz added, "Just knowing that every Saturday at 2:00, you know where you can tune and what game you're going to get, I think gives people a better chance to actually sink their teeth into it" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 2/10).