You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

It’s sudden death for XFL

League folds, costing WWF and NBC $70 mil

NEW YORK — The XFL pro-football league has folded after only one season, throwing its partners NBC and the World Wrestling Federation for a $70 million loss.

In a conference call with reporters, Vince McMahon, chairman of the WWF, said the failure to get UPN to carry XFL games for a second year was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

UPN’s ratings for Sunday night games from February through April were way below the XFL’s Nielsen guarantees to advertisers, but McMahon said that until this week, he was talking to UPN about shifting the telecasts to Sunday afternoon in 2002.

That shift would’ve proven a hardship to TV stations affiliated with UPN, said Adam Ware, chief operating officer of the network, because many of the affiliates score big ratings with locally programmed Sunday-afternoon movies. The pics are lucrative to these stations, which keep all of the advertising time within the movie telecasts. Replacing syndicated movies with XFL games would result in the affils handing over a large chunk of the ad time to UPN and the WWF for sale to national advertisers.

NBC had already told McMahon that it was not going to continue scheduling XFL games in primetime on Saturday because of abysmal ratings. And Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, said NBC had no weekend-afternoon availability for XFL games because of its coverage of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics next February and a full slate of National Basketball Assn. games throughout the winter and spring, plus various golf matches.

The poor Nielsen performance of XFL games made the commercial time a hard sell on NBC and UPN, as well as on TNN, the cabler that scheduled a game every Sunday afternoon. The XFL ended up giving away about a third of the commercial spots to advertisers as make-goods because the ratings fell so far below the guarantees.

No hard feelings

McMahon said UPN’s rejection of the XFL will leave no hard feelings with the WWF, which will continue to produce UPN’s highest-rated weekly series, “WWF Smackdown,” to air from 8-10 p.m. every Thursday.

McMahon and Ebersol were in different cities responding to questions on the conference call, but both were complimentary of each other.

McMahon “is a decent, trusting, accommodating partner,” said Ebersol. “The XFL has turned out to be one of the most fun experiences of my life,” he added.

“We thought the XFL would be a smart risk,” Ebersol continued, “because everybody is looking for an insurance policy against the wildly escalating prices for sports events.” NBC walked away from renewing the rights to National Football League games four years ago when CBS came up with a preemptive bid, agreeing to pony up a license fee of $4 billion for an eight-year term.

Most sports-rights deals, Ebersol said, either lose money for the network “or, at best, break even.”

Grappling with WCW

McMahon said the collapse of the XFL will allow him to focus on building up the WCW (World Championship Wrestling), a competing operation the WWF bought from AOL Time Warner earlier this year.

The WCW produced weekly two-hour primetime slamfests for Time Warner-owned nets TNT and TBS, both of which cancelled the programs when the WWF bought the operation.

McMahon is negotiating with TNN to start carrying this summer a non-primetime two-hour WCW telecast Saturdays at 11 p.m., hoping to build up the league over the months so that TNN will eventually give it a primetime slot.

More TV

  • Anthony Scaramucci to participate in the

    Anthony Scaramucci Light on Trump Talk in 'Celebrity Big Brother' Premiere

    CBS reality show “Big Brother” loves to tell its audience to “expect the unexpected,” but things went pretty much according to the assumed with Anthony Scaramucci on the second season premiere of the celebrity edition of the show. Right from his introductory package, Scaramucci had to acknowledge he was fired from the White House, “for [...]


    Tyler Perry: 6 Lessons He Shared at NATPE's 'Living the Dream' Summit

    MIAMI — Tyler Perry took time out of his “Madea’s Farewell” live stage tour and spent his Martin Luther King Jr. holiday giving an inspiring speech to aspiring producers and students gathered here for the annual NATPE convention. Perry was the keynoter Monday at the conference’s first ever “Living the Dream: A Career in Content” session [...]

  • Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics

    Q&A: Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics While Hosting the SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally is funny. The “Will & Grace” star can also sing and dance. While she’s not picking up the Oscar hosting gig after the Kevin Hart fiasco, Mullally will take center stage on Sunday, Jan. 27 when she makes her debut as the host of the 25th annual SAG Awards. Variety caught up with [...]

  • New England Patriots running back Sony

    CBS and Fox Cheer Big Turnout for NFL Conference Championships

    Sunday’s AFC and NFC championship games were nail-biters that went into overtime and sent viewership into overdrive. CBS harvested a whopping 53.9 million viewers as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his team to their third consecutive Super Bowl berth in a hard-fought primetime game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Viewership for the AFC [...]

  • RENT: Top L-R to Bottom L-R:

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of Jan. 21, 2019: 'Rent,' 'Celebrity Big Brother'

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “Rent: Live” airs on Fox and “Celebrity Big Brother” returns for a second [...]

  • Black Monday: How Showtime Dusted Off

    'Black Monday': How Showtime Dusted Off An Old '80s Logo For Its New Comedy

    Cocaine’s a hell of a drug, but you’re not seeing things: That, indeed is Showtime’s old 1980s-era logo pasted all over marketing materials and promos for “Black Monday,” a tongue-in-cheek tale of the excesses exhibited by Wall Street traders in the lead-up to the stock market crash of 1987. The logo, which hasn’t been in [...]

  • 'Russian Doll' Review

    TV Review: 'Russian Doll'

    This is a particularly tricky review to write, but not because the merits of “Russian Doll” are at all ambiguous. On the contrary, the show is so striking and smart that I made a note to include it on my favorite TV shows of 2019 immediately after blowing through the season — which is saying [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content