Why the UFL Has a Better Shot Than the XFL Did

Joshua LobdellCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2009

When we start to understand why the XFL failed, and how the UFL learned from that, we must first remember that 50 percent of the XFL was owned by NBC, and the cable TV market was a lot different way back in 2001. Now days, the television audience has been severely fragmented and the low TV numbers that cost the XFL its spot on NBC may be perfectly acceptable for a cable channel like Versus. 


The very first XFL game, played Feb. 3, 2001 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas between the New York/New Jersey Hitmen and the Las Vegas Outlaws drew in 14 million viewers. The final XFL game the Championship game Los Angeles Xtreme and the San Francisco Demons managed just over two million viewers. That is a sharp decline that the UFL will have to avoid.


Along the way, the XFL produced the worst rated prime-time TV broadcast on a major television network in history. The real lesson here though is the league was unable to retain its viewers.


The first ever UFL game will also take place at Sam Boyd Stadium on Oct. 8, 2009. While there is almost no way that 14 million people are going to tune in to watch that game, the UFL is betting enough people tune in to make it worth Versus while.


When we consider that Versus is a network airing niche sports, then the UFL has no pressure to deliver 14 million viewers. Let us also not forget that the first XFL game was a blowout, and NBC switched its coverage to the Orlando Rage/Chicago Enforcers game, overall that show had a 9.5 rating. Versus is not expecting the UFL to deliver those kinds of numbers


Versus airs sporting events like the IRL, whose TV ratings for some of their TV broadcasts have been as low as .2, .14, and .73. Meaning Versus is fine having a few hundred thousand viewers tune in as it builds an audience for its offerings.


Instead of getting a big opening number, the UFL is hoping to persuade a few hundred thousand TV viewers to watch al of their offerings each week. This league will only play 12 regular season games, with seven of them being broadcasted on Versus. It seems that the UFL will need to bring in 200,000 to 400,000 thousand viewers in the opening week and retain a good percentage of them.


While the UFL will not have the pressure of bringing in a large TV audience because it is owned by a major network, it will still need to draw decent to make it to year two. The Speed TV network is very happy with it’s TV numbers for broadcasting the NASCAR Camping World Truck series. The TV audience there averages out to around 400,000 viewers per race broadcast. That seems to be the number the UFL needs to shoot for.


The UFL has to sell itself as a legitimate minor league football offering, and provide its TV viewers with legitimate, quality football contests. For the most part, the XFL failed to do just that.


In the end, the XFL failed because of the expectations of an NFL-sized TV audience for its game broadcasts. The UFL has a better shot since those expectations will be far lower for a new league on a niche cable channel.


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