No sponsors punt on XFL

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WWF Entertainment and NBC's XFL football broadcasts gotsacked in the ratings in their second week, but-as of last week-no advertisers have bailed out of the nascent football league. And in its first two showings, the league still met or exceeded its audience promises to advertisers.

"We have given a lot of advertisers an out clause," said Bob Riordan, XFL's VP-advertiser sales. "But no one has pulled out; no one has threatened to pull out."

Here's why:

Though household ratings are down on NBC, XFL's combined average ratings-including other games on UPN and TNN-are still averaging where the league said it would be. XFL sold advertisers an 11 household rating for three weekend games on NBC, UPN and TNN. (Ratings are measured by the percentage of households in the U.S. that watch a TV show and each national rating point represents more than 1 million people.) During the first week the combined number reached a 12.6, but its second week numbers dropped to an 8.6. This averages out to an 11.0 so far. (Ad Age went to press before week three results-this past weekend-were known.)

"It's still doing what they are guaranteeing" said Andrew Donchin, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Aegis Group's Carat North America, USA, who bought XFL for some clients.

Media executives said some advertisers can pull back on ad buys after the third week of the season.

Ad execs said advertisers pay about $100,000 a unit for a 30-second spot in each of the three weekend games. Many advertisers bought season sponsorship deals for the entire 10-game season that ends in April, valued from $1 million to $3 million.

XFL originally projected NBC's game would receive a 6.5 rating, with UPN projected at a 2.5 number, and TNN estimated at a 2.0.

Mr. Riordan says even if the league settles in an 8 overall household rating, this would be considered a successful effort. The XFL is a venture co-owned by WWF Entertainment and General Electric Co.'s NBC.


For advertisers, the difference between the 11 and 8 is workable, say media executives. That's because the league is still promising hard-to-get male viewers.

Though the pre-sell on the XFL was in selling young men to advertisers, executives say the demographics are actually stronger with older men demos-18-49 and 26-54-that are more typical for NFL or college football.

For example, XFL is now letting brewery advertisers know that 80% of its viewers are 21 and older-legal beer drinking age.

Initially, the XFL promised advertisers a harder-edge version of the NFL with young male viewers in a more palatable environment than brash and violent images of WWF wrestling.

"Advertisers are more concerned with the content," said Mr. Donchin. "[The XFL] appears to be a step above the WWF. But the question is how much above. Give them time."

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