The XFL’s failing ratings tell a tale of misguided promotion

Dany Garcia (center) XFL Owner and Chairwoman in attendance at the Brahmas-Guardians matchup taking place at Camping World Stadium, Orlando, February 26 , 2023. (Photo Credit: Adam McCullough for XFLBoard)

When speaking to an industry insider who was close to the XFL in 2020, you quickly understand how people are not impressed with how the 2023 XFL mainly attempted to rely on the cachet of “The Rock” to draw in the fans. However, this plan failed, as Johnson clearly wasn’t able to drum up the same audience that the 2020 version of the league delivered.

Is it the law of diminishing returns? Maybe somewhat. Are fans not bothering to watch XFL games because it’s not new anymore and they see the league as nothing new, i.e., “Been there, done that?”

According to our sources, it’s much more than that, and the sports world hasn’t changed that much in three years. So, what is the difference?

The difference between the two leagues can be attributed to the amount and type of promotion that has been done for each league.

In 2020, behind the scenes, something positive for the league was Vince McMahon’s promotional mantra, and even more important was how his right-hand man, Basil V. DeVito Jr., was directly involved with the league and provided a resource who was instrumental in driving promotion. An inside source confirmed DeVito’s direct role in the promotion process and described him as a “promotional engine.” There may be validity in these statements, especially when considering how the XFL had a successful, well-watched launch in 2020.

Once the new ownership group took over the league, they discarded the people who had done so well, and decided to forge a new path. Keep in mind Dany Garcia is a mastermind when it comes to promoting movies and television. However, when you consider “The Rock” is involved in many of Dany’s highly successful projects, her method of promotion is to put Dwayne Johnson out there and let his personality shine.

In contrast, Dany never figured out how to promote XFL 2023. Yes, the league used “The Rock” in many of the promotions, mainly asking him to talk about his own football career and the path he took when he was cut from the Canadian Football League leaving him with only “seven bucks” in his pocket. We’re sure Dwayne Johnson has a drawer full of #54 tank tops from all the times he donned one just to say how he knew what it was like to be “Player 54,” symbolic of the odd man out when it came to a standard 53-player roster used by NFL teams. However, even Johnson’s sincere story hasn’t been able to make fans flock to the league to witness XFL rosters chock-a-block full of “Player 54s”. It seems, much more had to be done to ensure fans were clamoring for XFL football.

Criticism of Dany Garcia’s penchant for promoting herself has also been heard. Instead of the promotion of the football product as was done in 2020, in 2023, Dany herself has largely been the league’s message. In fact, this week Dany was on the cover of Sports Business Journal, where she declared victory.

In contrast, in 2020, the league kicked off with higher ratings and better in-stadium attendance, and we never saw Vince McMahon declare victory, or even league Commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck make such remarks.

However, Dany’s declaration of victory is just another step in XFL 2023’s promotional scheme, and that is to promote how this is Dany Garcia’s league, how she is unique as a female sports league owner, and that she holds the lofty position of XFL Chairwoman. Her signature is, after all, on the football. Let’s be clear. This is all a huge achievement. Dany should be proud and strut her stuff. Being on the cover of Sports Business Journal is just that.

While all of this is well and good, it has not enticed fans to watch the football product.

Critics have pointed out how Dany has focused more on her own ego than what needed to be done to promote the on-field product. While the league has been focusing on Garcia’s achievements for the past six months, they should have been building a promotional engine that could have been used to bring the fans to the game.

Some additional valid points come from those who were very close to the league in 2020, such as 2023’s relative lack of event promotions, the lack of “tune in” advertising, and a substandard website that is lacking player statistics, to name one. This all points to less attention being paid to the actual games being played. Too much of the league’s energy has been misdirected towards non-game promotions.

Some predict television ratings will slide even more unless the league changes its marketing mantra and begins to heavily promote the game on the field. It is true that the 2023 XFL lacks the promotional engine of FOX Sports and has drawn a slightly worse schedule than that of the 2020 league, but these facts just point out how much more effort must be made to catch up to the level of fan engagement of the league’s previous incarnation.

The 2020 XFL focused on fan engagement and noted how they constantly measured this important statistic. According to statements made at the time, the 2020 league was seeing a steady increase in fan engagement right up to the point Coronavirus forced them to shut down at the end of week five. Today, the 2023 XFL needs to achieve the same metric, or they may simply be shepherding the league to its third demise.

10 thoughts on “The XFL’s failing ratings tell a tale of misguided promotion”

  1. I am just tired of media members rooting for these leagues to fail. Let’s be appreciative that we have football past the Super Bowl and it is also affordable. I have already attended 2 XFL games as opposed to 1 NFL game (via LA Rams, Sofi Stadium on X-Mas day)

  2. First mistake. Locating teams in NFL cities. Fans in NFL cities get year round exposure to football. They’re not interested in a “minor league” team. This goes for Orlando also. With 3 NFL teams and few major college programs, Florida is saturated.

    Second mistake. All teams operating, living and practicing in one location. Only local exposure to their “home town” and fans is on game day. Without a team bus from the airport more than half of the players and staff probably wouldn’t find their way to their “home” field.

    • Actual first mistake: believing there is a huge market for spring football when there isn’t.

      No one grew up as an Orlando Guardians fan. Strip this sport of its emotional context, add second-rate players, and it doesn’t matter where you put teams or how often they practice in that city.

      You keep looking for supernatural reasons why people aren’t watching or going to games (except in St. Louis). It’s that people don’t care.

  3. Like I had said. People expect it to fail and won’t invest their time, money or effort in supporting these teams until they prove they are here for the long haul. They need a year or two under their belt before people will believe.

  4. It would help if the games were on one of the 4 major networks that everyone in the US gets. Putting them almost exclusively on espn and fx was a decision that should cost someone their job.

    • You…get that almost everybody gets ESPN, right?

      No one’s going to lose their job because people choose not to watch second-rate football played by second-rate players.

  5. OK. Here’s my take:

    1. I don’t care about The Rock or his ex-wife. Please keep them off my TV.

    2. There is a TV quality difference between the USFL and the XFL. Say what you will, but the production value differences are glaring.

    3. The league made the correct moves in relocating LA and NY to Orlando and San Antonio. Now they just have to shore up the live gate in Orlando.

    4. Cashman Field in LV is an egregious error. That LV team needs to have its location removed and turned in to a road/travel team if they have any hope for the near future.

    5. Putting games on FX is an awful mistake.

    6. Streaming all games on ESPN+ is a giant win.

    7. The coaching decisions that were made were at best questionable and at worst crazy.

    8. The Beer Snake bam in DC is a FAIL.

    9. The XFL docuseries is HORRID.

    10. The arlington team name reminds fans of a CEMETERY. LOL.

  6. My Thoughts
    1) Games have been entertaining..
    2) Embracing betting is smart
    3) Announcers better than expected !

    1) No teams in Football Crazy Colorado, Philadelphia or Cleveland. Big mistake
    2) Should have been in Dallas instead of Arlington.
    3) No identities as they realistically need a year or two with a Title!
    4) Competing USFL will only drain Spring viewers. Spring is not football season so this is only big enough for one league not two.
    5) Diehard NFL fans think it’s a joke.

    There ya have it. I wish them luck but I am a football junkie, most aren’t watching or attending.

    • You’re wrong Tim. I am a football junkie and I am actually surprised at how good the games are and how skilled the players are. The major advantage that the xfl does have over the nfl is that they get the play call right. Better officiating. I prefer most xfl rule changes but not all. The con is that it’s not as live as an nfl game which is to be expected since the nfl has been around for over 80 years. If the stadiums were full and the crowd was as loud it would be better than the nfl but do not think that the xfl is a joke league. Most of these players never got a chance in the nfl not because they weren’t good enough but because they weren’t favorites. Look at how Jordan Love never got to play under Aaron Rodgers for the past 7 years. Yet he would be a starter on most NFL teams.

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