The XFL has another selling point behind its planned 2020 resurrection: It’s lined up some major broadcast partners when it returns in February.
The league, backed by WWE CEO Vince McMahon, announced multi-year broadcasting agreements with Disney’s ESPN and ABC networks as well as Fox Sports to air games on Saturdays and Sundays during the NFL’s offseason.
Back-to-back games will air on Saturdays starting February 8, followed by two additional games planned for Sundays. The deals, which were teased last month by XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck in an interview with Yahoo Finance, answer the important question of how football fans might be able to watch the games at the start of the season.
“We are thrilled to partner with ESPN and Fox Sports, two innovative media companies with extensive experience in world-class football production that will undoubtedly help us reimagine football,” said McMahon in a statement. “The XFL broadcast schedule provides us with incredible reach and makes it easy for fans to watch our games consistently every weekend.”
Viewing consistency was a problem some fans voiced after the now-defunct Alliance of American Football (AAF) launched earlier this year. AAF games bounced around from airing on CBS to CBS Sports Network and NFL Network, but posted a promising debut with a viewership rating that matched a big competing NBA game in the time slot. Luck mentioned the strong showing on a broadcast network as proof fans were on board with the idea of an NFL challenger league, and reason to pursue partnerships with traditional linear networks over going the streaming route.
“For us visibility is ultimately more important than streaming,” he said before revealing which networks would be carrying XFL games. “And I don't want to be sort of old-fashioned and a fuddy duddy, right? Because I watch streaming sports and movies all the time, but ultimately, we think for a startup league, we need to make it very easy for people to watch our game or portions of our game. And that's really broadcast TV over the air, terrestrial good old-school broadcast as well as fully distributed cable.”
The exposure might help the XFL accomplish what the AAF was unable to do in its inaugural season — maintain the league’s buzz well after it debuts — with its first set of games on ABC and FOX next year.