The revived XFL enjoyed a solid start during the spring-season American football league’s opening weekend, with healthy 17,000-plus attendances in the four games played and generally favorable reviews about the quality of play and television broadcasts.
On February 8, the DC Defenders drew 17,163 fans for their game against Seattle Dragons at Audi Field, while the Houston Roughnecks attracted a crowd of 17,815 for their clash with Los Angeles Wildcats at TDECU Stadium.
On February 9, the New York Guardians drew 17,634 fans to their home game against the Tampa Bay Vipers at the MetLife Stadium. While a solid number firmly in line with the draws in the other markets, the optics of a relatively small crowd in the 82,500-capacity MetLife Stadium, the home venue of the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets, were less than ideal.
In the final game of the weekend, the Dallas Renegades attracted 17,026 fans for their home game against the St. Louis Battlehawks at the revamped Globe Life Park in Arlington.
It was also reported that prior to its opening weekend, the XFL had already surpassed ticket sales revenue for the entire season of the Alliance of American Football, which lasted just eight weeks in 2019.
Fan atmosphere at many of the XFL games was often lively, with reports of plenty of long lines at merchandise fans with fans eager to snap up official gear.
In regards to US television ratings, the Defenders-Dragons opener averaged 3.3 million viewers on ABC, with viewership peaking at 4.0 million at the end of the broadcast, a number that if it holds will compare favorably to the regular-season draws of many established US pro leagues outside of the National Football League.
Seattle-Tacoma had the highest local audience for the XFL debut with a 6.4 rating, while the Washington DC gained a 4.0.
By contrast, the Alliance of American Football averaged 2.9 million viewers for its opener on CBS in 2019. Notably that game was aired in primetime on Saturday evening, unlike the XFL opener which was on a Saturday afternoon.
The XFL’s quality of play and in-game innovations were generally well-received, but not everything quite went according to plan.
The XFL has implemented a series of new rules, designed to speed up play and add excitement. As such, league was hoping its games would last around 2 hours 45 minutes. But the Defenders-Dragons season opener went over the three-hour mark and briefly clashed with the later kick-off in Houston, with both games being broadcast on national TV in the United States at the same time.
Meanwhile, one of the multiple in-game interviews went unexpectedly viral when Dragons offensive linesman Dillon Day cursed on national television. There were also questions about whether interviewing a kicker directly after he missed a field goal, as happened to the Dragons’ Ty Rausa, was appropriate.
But aside from some of those production and operational issues, it remained an impressive opening weekend for the start-up league, whose executives are keenly aware that they must maintain interest after the novelty effect wears off.
“For us, if the fans who attend and watch at home feel as though it was a good football game and they had a fun time either watching or being in this awesome venue with us, that’s success,” XFL chief operating officer Jeffrey Pollack said. “We’re taking a long-term view in this. Success ultimately will not be measured in the first game or the first weekend or the first season.”
He added: “Our expectation for this first season is for football fans to simply give us a look, give us a chance, sample us. We understand that fandom is earned. It’s not given.”
Meanwhile, the Renegades wore Bud Light Seltzer logos on the back of their helmets as part of a sponsorship deal with the hard seltzer brand. The team is the first in the XFL to have uniform advertising at present.