The XFL's opening weekend debuted to four viewerships wins. The Saturday games, Seattle-Washington and Los Angeles-Houston, both averaged 3.3 million viewers on ABC and FOX, respectively. The highest-viewed game of Week 1 was FOX's Tampa Bay-New York broadcast at 3.4 million. The final game of the weekend, St. Louis at Dallas, drew an audience of 2.5 million on ESPN.
Ironically, the most important number is the lowest-- that of the ESPN game. It drew the lowest rating because it was the sole cable broadcast of the four. But it indicates the audience enjoyed the three prior games and wasn't XFLed-out by 5 p.m. ET Sunday. For comparison, ESPN's NBA doubleheader Friday — Portland-Utah and Toronto-Indiana — averaged only one million viewers. The first ESPN XFL game of the season was close to Duke-North Carolina's 2.7 million average on ESPN a day before.
It's not surprising the first game, which aired on ABC, drew 3.3 million viewers (It's new, we want to check it out). It is, though, surprising to see that number not slip, but even increase on FOX the next day. The novelty of a product lessens after the first game, and in most cases, the viewership follows.
All three of the games that aired on broadcast television fared better than ABC's Lakers-Warriors showing on Saturday night, which averaged 2.9 million viewers according to Sports Media Watch.
It's unknown if the AAF could've maintained around a 3 million average opening weekend (some conflicting reports if its debut was above or below 3 million) if it wasn't negated down to networks with much smaller viewerships.
XFL detractors will instantly respond to the opening weekend win with a snarky, "Come talk to me in Week 6." Which is fair. A league doesn't define success in one week. However, it can only be judged for that one weekend at this point. Additionally, the trends from games 3-4 bode well for the league this next weekend.
The product was entertaining and met with generally favorable reviews. All four broadcast teams clicked and presented the game as if it belonged. The broadcasters of a game don't alter the viewership, but they do set the tone. And ESPN and FOX have both top-level and rising football voices a part of it.
A not-yet-discussed factor in the long-term ratings is the coverage. Quite a bit of the industry's top shows discussed the XFL on Monday: PTI, The Herd, Pardon My Take, and Get Up, to name a few. While that is a plus, the shows discussed it by asking if it will last, how good it is, or what rules the NFL should adopt. The XFL would benefit from discussions regarding its games and players to build up hype. It's unlikely they will get much of that, if any, this year outside of SportsCenter.
The XFL has a long way to go and an accurate verdict is still a ways away. But the start is as good as the XFL, Disney, and FOX could've anticipated.
[FOX XFL ratings via The Big Lead's Ryan Glasspiegel.]