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What about the XFL?

I know that most of you were NOT glued to the TV as the LA Xtreme dominated the San Francisco Demons 38-6 Saturday at the Coliseum in the Million Dollar Game. 

OK, so I was wrong. I knew the XFL wasn't going to make it long term, but it's not going to make it short-term either. And, contrary to the "sports purist" critics, it has nothing to do with content. What was supposed to make it strong is also what made it flop. Deep-pocketed partner NBC has already said that it will not carry XFL games next year, despite their two-year agreement. Maybe the Rock can have a funeral. 

Think back to the last large-scale entirely network-owned sports venture: the Goodwill Games. Created by another big mouth, billionaire Ted Turner. Turner's Goodwill Games still exist but they rarely get coverage other than on Time Warner-owned stations such as TBS, TNT, and CNN (TNT is the host broadcaster of the event). However, since the Goodwill Games are one-time in nature, the lack of additional coverage is not as damaging to their overall ratings. 

Every other major sporting league is not even partially owned by a network, therefore no turf wars. The networks are one of the most turf-war driven platforms on the planet. They schedule shows JUST to stick it to another network. They steal actors, writers and ideas from each other. They will spend $100 million just to make a point, which is what GE/NBC did in the case of the XFL. Basically, it's a kindergarten class full of egomaniac millionaires. The point is that none of the other media outlets were going to support NBC's encroachment on "their" turf.

CNN and "Sports Illustrated" are owned by AOL Time Warner, which also owns HBO and TNT. HBO has the long running "Inside the NFL" show and TNT previously had the NFL Sunday Night Game of the Week (which it is actively trying to get back). ESPN is owned by Disney (a.k.a. the Mouse), which also owns the ABC network. Both networks carry NFL games. Even FOX SportsNet, owned by the maverick FOX network, wouldn't give the XFL the time of day since they too carry NFL games. Viacom's UPN and TNN units have not stated their XFL plans for next year. Viacom also owns the CBS network, which currently airs NFL games but knows what it's like to be left out in the cold. CBS lost the NFL for several years when FOX entered the NFL's high-priced poker game.

Unfortunately, the external turf war issue wasn't the only hole in the XFL boat. Not everyone at NBC was on board with the XFL game plan. None of NBC Sports' top-flight announcers, like Bob Costas and Marv Albert, would work an XFL game. Only two senior NBC Sports production staffers assisted during XFL games. Add the SNL Jennifer Lopez incident (an XFL overtime game pushing back an SNL start time to 12:20 am) and NBC had plenty of in-house struggles hanging over the XFL. Additionally, the WWF boss Vince McMahon rubbed half of the Northern Hemisphere the wrong way.

Advertisers are mixed over the XFL. Several advertisers, such as Honda, couldn't take the WWF-like in-your-face rhetoric and dropped after several weeks. The Army, on the other hand, was characterized as "very happy" with its XFL advertising. The Army web site's traffic tripled during XFL games and recruiters signed up hundreds of potential recruits at the eight XFL stadiums. Ultimately, it's about money. According the "Wall Street Journal," industry sources said that NBC's March 31 broadcast drew the lowest rating for a prime-time program on a major network in modern television history. 

I admit that I only watched several early games since it was such sloppy play and the announcers were simply annoying (I thought Boz was dead?). But not all the play was bad and there were some redeeming qualities in the XFL. Several of the rules, such as the no-fair-catch rule and bump-and-run defenses, dredge up old NFL rules. Besides, you can't shoot the players since they had roughly a month to prepare for the season.

Oh well. It's only a matter of time before you start seeing XFL merchandise at your local flea markets.

Locker Room is written by Michael Skordeles

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