NBC going to Xtreme to bring back football

Peacock bags grid rights, WWF stake

NBC, which was outbid by CBS three years ago for National Football League games, is moving back into what’s being billed as pro football, courtesy of a multiyear deal it will announce today to carry weekly Saturday primetime games of the still-gestating Xtreme Football League.

As part of the pact, Peacock is expected to take an equity stake in the World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc., the Vince McMahon-led company behind the XFL.

McMahon announced seven weeks ago that the league would kick off in February 2001, encompassing teams in eight cities that would play a 10-game season stretching through April.

NBC declined comment and the WWF couldn’t be reached at press time.

Sources say NBC is looking for live, action-packed, male-appeal programming to schedule on a night — Saturday — that traditionally draws the smallest number of households to the TV set. Peacock has struggled for several years to find a successful programming strategy for the night.

But the real significance of the NBC deal is that it could damage Viacom/CBS’s chance of luring the high-rated WWF programming away from the USA network and funneling it to CBS-owned TNN.

Sources say Viacom/CBS was making the pickup of the highly desirable wrestling events a condition of carrying unproven XFL games on Viacom-owned UPN. (CBS would’ve had a harder time scheduling XFL games because of its eight-year contract with the NFL, which might not look kindly on CBS’s giving promi-nence to a rival football league.)

A Thursday-night package of WWF games has revivified UPN’s ratings, which were rock bottom during the 1998-99 season.

If it succeeds, the XFL could be a huge boost to NBC on many fronts. In addition luring auds, the franchise would give the Peacock a much-needed promotional platform to reach male viewers.

The XFL would also be a big boost to “Saturday Night Live,” which at times has been known to draw more viewers than the Peacock’s Saturday primetime sked.

(Josef Adalian in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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