XFL looking for a prince

McMahon woos Frog net to carry 2nd season

NEW YORK — Could the WB step in to take over weekly broadcast-network coverage of the XFL pro-football league if UPN decides not to renew its contract with the XFL for a second season?

Vince McMahon, chairman of the World Wrestling Federation, which is co-owner of the XFL, held out that prospect in an impromptu Q&A following the WWF’s first-ever upfront presentation for ad buyers Wednesday evening. McMahon said he has sounded out the WB.

But a WB spokesman said firmly, “The WB is not interested in getting the rights to the XFL and neither are any of our affiliates.”

McMahon acknowledged that the XFL will go out of business after its rookie season unless the UPN or some other broadcast network signs up to schedule weekly games, but not in primetime.

“These games belong on Sunday afternoon, not Saturday night or Sunday night,” McMahon said. He said dejectedly that NBC’s Saturday-primetime telecasts of XFL games this year were a complete failure in the Nielsen ratings because “the people who’d watch the games were out partying, not sitting at home.”

McMahon said he’s resigned himself to losing NBC, which owns the other half of the XFL, as a broadcast partner next year. NBC is committed by contract to putting up half the money — about $25 million — if the XFL continues to operate in 2002, but McMahon implied that he’d be willing to let NBC negotiate out of its obligation.

UPN’s XFL ratings were poor on Sunday nights this year because of “brutal competition” from the broadcast and cable networks, which put on some of their highest-visibility programming on Sunday, McMahon said.

The WWF is also talking to the Viacom-owned cable network TNN, he said, to carry Sunday-afternoon XFL games for a second season as a lead-in to a UPN Sunday-afternoon game.

While the XFL seesaws between life and death, McMahon’s main line of business, TV wrestling, is thriving. Ratings are solid for the weekly two-hour Thursday-night “Smackdown” on UPN, the weekly two-hour “Raw Is War” on TNN every Monday night, the weekly one-hour “Sunday Night Heat” on MTV and the various syndicated offerings such as “Live Wire” and “Super Stars.”

McMahon said he plans to keep the WCW (World Championship Wrestling), which the WWF bought from AOL Time Warner earlier this year, running as a separate operation.

As part of an umbrella deal the WWF signed with Viacom last year, McMahon is negotiating with TNN to carry a weekly WCW event Saturday at 11 p.m. These negotiations are dragging out because the WWF hasn’t signed the WCW’s biggest stars such as Sting and Goldberg.