No tears shed for the XFL

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The unlamented XFL deserves the final kicking around it's been getting, for it violated a basic tenet of marketing. And how can its creators, World Wrestling Federation's Wayne McMahon and NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, who promised "outlaw" football, object to a little piling on?

The XFL had a likely audience: football addicts and young men with a demonstrated taste for the fake-mayhem-and-sex circuses put on by the WWF. The pre-season hype for the XFL worked and the opening game audience was surprisingly-shockingly-big (nearly a 10 rating). But products that can't deliver on their advertising are nearly always doomed.

In the XFL's case, its audience was presented with an awkward, stumbling and ultimately unengaging show. The curious found too little shock and scandal; the football fans found too little decent football. Their verdict was apparent by the next Saturday night's game on NBC: Ratings began a plunge that reached record lows for any primetime show ever telecast on any major broadcast network. Much of the remaining interest in the XFL came from a morbid curiosity over how bad things could get.

The XFL failure should not scare off future experiments in TV sports. It does mean TV executives and advertisers must be more careful and thorough in preparing what they put before an audience. The XFL went from nowhere to live on NBC in a matter of months-and it showed.

The XFL failure does not mean TV sports viewers want their sports only one way. But, thankfully, it shows advertisers and programmers are mistaken if they think all that needs to be done to get young male viewers is to lard a show with staged sex and violence.

The XFL failure must not keep NBC or the other networks from trying new ideas on Saturday nights. Ratings are so low on Saturdays, and the threshold for "success" so modest, that it practically invites risk-taking. But the "outlaw" XFL turned out to be a bad risk. It over-promised and under-delivered, and it will not be missed.

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