XFL Ratings Slide By Half in Week 2

Monday, February 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The XFL wasn't as big a turn-on in Week 2, as the football league that's as much about spectacle as sports drew only half as many viewers as it did for the debut broadcast on NBC and was pummeled in the TV ratings by the film ``The Parent Trap.''

The 50 percent decline mirrors what happened to the USFL, another spring football league, albeit one that — unlike the XFL — lured away some top talent from the NFL.

The USFL went from a 14.2 rating in its first game, on ABC in 1983, to 7.4 in its second game. It was down to 3.3 by Week 15 and folded after three seasons.

Similarly, the preliminary overnight rating for Saturday's XFL show on NBC was a 5.1, meaning an average of 5.1 percent of television homes in the country's largest 49 markets tuned in at any given time. Last week's preliminary Nielsen number was 10.3.

Another bad sign: Repeating a pattern seen in Week 1, the XFL rating decreased each half-hour from 8 to 10:30 p.m. EST.

That was followed by a razor-thin increase for the next 30 minutes, but then the audience expanded by 25 percent from 11 to 11:45 p.m. as the Los Angeles Xtreme pulled out their 39-32 victory over the Chicago Enforcers in double overtime.

The silver lining for the network and its partner in the XFL, the World Wrestling Federation, though, is that even with the decline, Saturday's rating was in line with the 4.5 national rating that advertisers were promised. Saturday night's national rating should be out Tuesday.

``We remain a work in progress, and our numbers last night are exactly where we said they would be the last six months,'' NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said.

What remains to be seen is whether the XFL can prevent further ratings erosion.

``We have to wait at least four weeks to get an accurate prediction for the season,'' said former CBS Sports president Neil Pilson, who now runs a TV consulting firm.

The Week 2 rating, though, ``does establish that last week we had an enormous tune-in from people who probably are not going to be regular viewers of the XFL,'' Pilson added.

``I thought the rating last week simply was a result of the terrific promotion for the debut. Now you have to deal with regular viewers — people who are going to come back on a week-to-week basis — and that is the major challenge for NBC and the WWF.''

Tellingly, NBC finished last among the four major networks in prime time Saturday just a week after beating ABC, CBS and Fox with the opening of the loud and sometimes lurid XFL. ABC's airing of ``The Parent Trap'' topped the prime-time ratings, more than 30 percent ahead of NBC.

Saturday's program had more WWF influences, including one of that group's star wrestlers opening the on-field proceedings in Los Angeles with rambling bluster about being ``sick and tired of NFL suits telling us what they want.''

And the main play-by-play voice changed, with wrestling announcer Jim Ross supplanting Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Matt Vasgersian as the setup man for Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Vasgersian worked the night's other XFL game.