- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2020

The XFL’s debut game between the D.C. Defenders and the Seattle Dragons on Saturday drew an average of 3.3 million fans, and the audience peaked at 4 million, ESPN’s PR department reported.

The game, broadcast nationally on ABC, garnered a 4.0 rating in the Washington market, but the highest-rated market was Seattle-Tacoma at 6.4.

For comparison, when the Alliance of American Football had its inaugural game in a primetime Saturday night time slot one year ago, it averaged 2.9 million viewers.

Fox Sports announced its broadcast of Saturday night’s game between the Houston Roughnecks and Los Angeles Wildcats scored a 2.3 rating nationally. And on Sunday, the St. Louis BattleHawks-Dallas Renegades game averaged almost 2.5 million viewers, earning a 4.2 rating in the football-crazed Dallas-Fort Worth area — and a 7.4 in St. Louis, which lost the Rams a few years ago.

The XFL’s inaugural game outperformed the launch of the AAF this time last year. The AAF’s split broadcast of its first two games in 2019, in a Saturday night prime-time slot on CBS, averaged 2.9 million viewers and a 2.1 overnight rating. 

The XFL’s success still pales in comparison to the NFL, whose TV ratings have turned around after a dip a few years ago. NFL viewership increased by 5% in 2019 for an average game viewership of 16.5 million.

On the other hand, the XFL’s initial numbers are better than the typical viewership of the NBA, the strongest winter competition the league will have. Last season, regular-season NBA games across ESPN and ABC averaged 1.99 million viewers and TNT games averaged 1.5 million.

The XFL attracted one particular subgroup of fans: bettors. The Action Network, a sports gambling website, reported the first two XFL games took in 20 times the cash in bets that the AAF’s first two games did.

It’s a promising start, but the league will have to sustain strong ratings and attendance for the rest of the season in order to be taken seriously. Each of the four games this weekend reportedly drew between 17,000 and 18,000 fans.

However, the league got plenty of attention on Twitter and other social media platforms over the weekend — including from celebrity musician John Legend, who said he would pull for Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones:

To be fair, Legend also joked about some subpar tackling he witnessed:

Arizona Cardinals quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray also attended one of the games.

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