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Volume 26 No. 25
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Broadcast TV Big Part Of XFL Deals With ESPN, Fox

More than half of the XFL's games will be on broadcast TV as part of deals the league is announcing with Fox and ESPN this morning. The broadcast component is important as league execs believe their best chance for success is having games in front of the biggest possible TV audience. Spring football efforts in recent years, including the Alliance of American Football, which shut down last month, did not have the majority of their games on broadcast TV. “Spring football is going to work,” said ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus. "The combination of Vince McMahon, WWE, Fox and Disney is an incredible one to take a really hard run at this and see if that’s not the combination that finally makes it work.”

The multiyear deal calls for 24 of the XFL's 43 games to be on broadcast TV (13 on ABC; 11 on Fox), including two Thursday primetime games on Fox in April '20. The networks are not paying a rights fee, but ESPN and Fox are picking up production costs, which generally amount to around $400,000 per game, sources said. As part of the deal, the nets will sell ads around the game; the XFL will handle sponsorships at the venue. ESPN and Fox will hold streaming rights to XFL games. The two nets also will cross-promote games during game broadcasts. “One of the key drivers of a successful professional league is broad exposure and appointment television, and we’ve got that,” said CAA’s Alan Gold, who along with agency's Nick Khan brokered the deal for league.

The XFL worked with the nets to come up with a schedule that will have back-to-back games on Saturday afternoons with two more games on Sundays -- a consistency that league and network execs believe will bring viewers. “We wanted to make sure there was consistency and broad reach to start because this is a new venture,” Magnus said. “This is not an established sports property.” Fox will carry a game on Feb. 8, the weekend after Fox carries the Super Bowl. It is strategy similar to what the AAF employed this year, when CBS carried its inaugural game the week after carrying the Super Bowl -- a game that generated impressive ratings. Fox will carry one playoff semifinal, and ESPN will carry the other semifinal, followed by the championship. “We wanted maximum reach, and these deals provide us with that,” said XFL President & COO Jeffrey Pollack. The nets will pick the game announcers, but have not yet decided who will call or produce them.

League and network execs are optimistic that the XFL will break the mold of previous spring leagues. “Look at other leagues that have been in the spring -- the numbers when they’ve been on television have been very much warranting a broad distribution,” said Fox Sports President of National Networks Mark Silverman. “People like football. If it’s quality football with quality production, we think it’s going to resonate.”

Execs said they took away several lessons from the failed AAF that they believe will help the XFL succeed. “The league to partner with is the league that has financing,” Silverman said. “The XFL has a business plan. It is in it for the long haul. We did our diligence. We made sure this entity is in it for the long run. The business plan is in order. We know the key leadership from our WWE deal.” XFL Commissioner & CEO Oliver Luck agreed. “The only game that the Alliance had on broadcast was their opening game on CBS. One of the lessons we took away was that they had a pretty good rating,” Luck said. “It shows that Americans still want to watch football the week after the Super Bowl.”