The XFL returned this weekend, for the third time ever and the second time in three years. And while the partnership with, and relentless promotion from, ESPN and ABC should result in solid viewership numbers, there’s a separate question regarding attendance at games.
It’s been a chronic issue for all of the alternate leagues. Even if people watch on TV (and they do), it’s a challenge to get them to go watch the games in person.
The USFL in 2022 had an enhanced degree of difficulty, since all games were played in Birmingham. The XFL plays its games in the eight cities its franchises represent. And the initial attendance figures from Saturday show that there’s room for improvement.
Via the Dallas Morning News, courtesy of Sports Business Journal, the Arlington Renegades drew 12,047 to the home opener against the Vegas Vipers. That reflected a drop of nearly 30 percent from the crowd of more than 17,000 that showed up to see the same team in the same stadium for its XFL 2.0 opener.
The other Saturday game, played in Houston between the Roughnecks and the Orlando Guardians, drew 12,784.
Again, ticket sales will be a small part of the overall viability puzzle. The third iteration of the XFL will rise or die based on people watching the games.
Of course, it’s easier to get more people to tune in and to stay tuned in if the TV images show robust crowds. That’s always been a point of emphasis for the NFL, as evidenced by a rule that blacked out games in the local markets if sufficient tickets weren’t sold in advance. Crowded venues make the games seem bigger and more compelling, with the other side of the coin also being true — the games can feel like not a big deal if no one is there watching them happen.
It will take time and patience and cash. That’s something recent attempts at a spring league haven’t had, from the AAF (which had unexpected funding issues) to XFL 2.0 (which fell victim to the pandemic). The USFL 2.0 and the XFL 3.0 seem to be prepared to give their experiments time to take root, with real strategies for controlling costs and enhancing profit.
Still, one of the keys to making one of these leagues flourish will be to get asses in the seats, even if it means giving tickets away for free and making money from parking, concessions, and merchandise.