In order to be deemed successful and continue as a brand, the XFL will need one thing that they currently don’t have — a television contract.
The XFL is off to a hot start. According to David Burron of the Houston Chronicle, the league had nearly 12.5 million viewers on its opening weekend. The game between the Guardians and the Vipers did the highest number with 3.385 million. The lowest number viewership — and the only one under 3 million — was Renegades and Battlehawks game, which was just under 2.5 million.
Those are some good numbers for the opening weekend. However, those numbers will have to continue to at least remain stable if they want the most important thing to keep going. That is a permanent TV contract.
The NFL has a major television presence on four networks (ESPN, Fox, CBS, and NBC). According to outkickthecoverage.com, ESPN pays the NFL $2 billion annually, Fox pays $1.1 billion, CBS pays $1 billion, and NBC pays $950 million. The DirecTV deal for NFL Sunday Ticket is worth $1.5 billion.
Football is king, and the NFL has 256 regular season games. They also have four postseason games on ESPN and the other six distributed between Fox, NBC, and CBS. The Super Bowl rotates between Fox, CBS, and NBC.
Football is also the perfect sport for television. In order for the XFL to succeed, they will need a television contract. They won’t get anywhere near NFL money, but they don’t need to. If they continue with the current format — 21 games (including one playoff game) on Fox and 22 on ESPN (including one playoff game and the championship) — and keep up the numbers from the opening weekend, Fox and ESPN will likely be willing to extend their current one-year deals.
Can the XFL be a sustainable league? Yes, but it’s all about the ratings and the television contract.