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Early X-it

XFL folds after disappointing first season

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Posted: Thursday May 10, 2001 6:42 PM
Updated: Thursday May 10, 2001 9:49 PM
  Tommy Maddox Tommy Maddox becomes the only championship quarterback in the history of the now ex-XFL. Scott Halleran/Allsport

NEW YORK (AP) -- X-it, stage left.

The XFL folded Thursday after one season that was a critical and TV ratings disappointment for the football league founded by the World Wrestling Federation and jointly owned by NBC.

The WWF said its share of after-tax losses will be about $35 million. NBC's loss should be similar.

"Despite where our heart was, we just couldn't make it work from a financial standpoint," WWF chairman Vince McMahon said. "We tried to figure out every conceivable way to make this work."

Even with adjustments on the fly, very little worked for the XFL between the much-hyped and well-rated season opener and the April 21 championship game, which was watched by about 75 percent fewer people than the debut on NBC.

The final game's national rating was a 2.1, tying for 93rd place among prime-time shows that week and lower than anything else on the four major networks. Each rating point represents a little more than 1 million TV homes.

The Week 7 broadcast on NBC is believed to be the lowest-rated prime-time program ever on one of the three major networks.

NBC statement on XFL
"Launching a new football league in such a short time period was a daunting and exciting challenge, but we gave it our best shot. The risk of our XFL joint venture was prudent and tolerable given that the ownership of a successful new league today provided the possibility of an enormous economic opportunity in a time of wildly escalating sports TV rights.

"We are proud of the innovative, fan-friendly football and television production enhancements that NBC and the WWF jointly developed for this league. I especially want to salute the fans, players and coaches who created the fun and entertaining XFL in-stadium experience.

"Most of all, I want to thank Vince McMahon. NBC has enjoyed many partnerships through the years, but we would be challenged to find a more decent, trusting and accommodating partner and friend than Vince." 

"It was a risk we all thought was a smart one in this wildly escalating TV rights scene," said NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, who had hoped to provide his network with football after it lost its NFL rights contract after the 1997 season.

NBC hoped to parlay McMahon's promotional skills to draw the young male viewers that advertisers crave and air games on Saturdays, which generally have poor TV ratings.

In the end, the XFL had a shorter life than another outdoor spring football league -- the USFL, which started airing on ABC in 1983 and folded after three seasons.

"We knew it wasn't going to work [in prime time] from early March on," Ebersol said. "The launch worked, the people were there, and we didn't answer their expectations, I guess."

In addition to Saturday nights on NBC, XFL games were shown on UPN and TNN. McMahon indicated the death blow for the fledgling league was that no deal could be struck with those secondary broadcasters, which became 100 percent clear Thursday.

The XFL didn't seem to be able to decide whether it wanted to be more about sport or spectacle.

"I never had faith in the concept," said former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, a consultant. "If they had pitched it closer to football, they would have lost the wrestling audience. If they had made a burlesque out of football to conform to the expectations of the wrestling audience, they probably would have lost NBC, which as I understand it wanted to play quality football."

Early games had lascivious cheerleader shots, anti-NFL bluster from WWF types, sophomoric double entendres and screaming announcers -- including Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a former WWF wrestler -- who sounded more like shills than analysts.

By the end, most of that nonsense was gone.

The XFL even changed the on-field rules to speed up games after a double-overtime contest in Week 2 delayed Saturday Night Live. Other rules changes came as late as the playoffs, and tinkering with the production side never ceased.

Statement from WWF chairman Vince McMahon
While we believe that it is an extraordinary accomplishment to have created a new professional football league in what amounts to less than a year's time, we feel that it is in the best interests of our shareholders and our partners to discontinue the XFL.

I would personally like to thank the employees of the XFL and WWFE, the XFL fans, our partner NBC and especially Dick Ebersol and his team for their perseverance, support and enthusiasm that did not waiver throughout the season.

We are all proud of the creative innovations that we introduced in the production of the game as well as in the rule changes that were implemented to increase the excitement and enjoyment of the game and provide a fan-friendly brand of football. 

J.K. McKay, general manager of the first and only XFL champion Los Angeles Xtreme, said the demise came as a surprise, especially since the league held meetings just a week ago in Connecticut.

"I feel very badly," McKay said. "It's been a lot of fun. We took a lot of heat in the media. We tried to put a good product on the field and allow people to come to football games who never could have afforded to."

Ventura, asked for his reaction as he left a speech in Minneapolis, said: "I don't care. I don't work for them anymore."

Although the quality of the football might have improved during the season, it was telling that the league's MVP, Tommy Maddox, threw more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns during a brief NFL career.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would have no comment -- a position the NFL maintained throughout the XFL's existence.

At stadiums, the eight-team league said it sold about 1 million tickets, but the championship game drew a crowd of only 24,153 to the 90,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum.

But the television viewership plummeted after a promising Week 1, prompting the league to give away about 30 percent of its ad inventory for free to sponsors whose commercials weren't reaching as many viewers as they had been promised.

"The audience didn't like it in the numbers we needed to go forward," Ebersol said.

The XFL did give fans impressive access to the game, including cameras in huddles and microphones in helmets.

"In terms of the innovations that NBC and WWF brought to the game -- I would suggest that you will see those in the NFL," McMahon said. "Our whole imprimatur was to bring the game closer to the fan."

Related information
Xtreme QB Maddox named XFL Player of the Year
L.A. beats S.F. in inaugural Million Dollar Game
XFL season ends on low note with poor ratings
Despite poor ratings, XFL says it matched goals
XFL future in jeopardy after ratings failures
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