The XFL kicked off its inaugural season with some of its renegade pro-football rules unsettled but most of its ad inventory sold.
Approximately 70% of the ad inventory for the upstart football league from the World Wrestling Federation and NBC was sold, according to NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol. The going rate for 30-second spots on NBC, UPN and TNN is $100,000 to $150,000. The charter list holds no real surprises: Anheuser Busch, AT&T, Best Buy, Burger King, Castrol, Gatorade, Gillette, MGM, Pennzoil, Valvoline, and the U.S. Army and Air Force.
They all bought spots in a package across the three networks carrying the games-seen as ratings diamonds in the rough for the male 18-34 target demo.
Chris Geraci, director of national TV buying for OMD, says the XFL needs quality football to successfully play to that demo in Peoria, or anywhere else. "There's a business risk, but we think it's viable," Ebersol said in a press conference last week. So viable that NBC is guaranteeing a bigger-than-NBA 4.5 rating to advertisers on the Saturday-night games and a cumulative 10 rating across all three networks.
"If the games are smashmouth enough, it might get an audience," said independent media analyst Gary Arlen, "if it's gross in every meaning of the word."
The big question is whether a Saturday-night football league can keep male couch potatoes-and advertisers-coming back, even for the histrionics and the 25-camera Super Bowl-scale production, if the XFL is more pro wrestling than pro sport.