XFL pins down big ad roster

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The XFL appears ready to rumble.

Looking to latch onto young male demographics, most blue-chip sports advertisers have jumped aboard for the three-network platform-NBC, UPN and Viacom's The National Network-offered by the inaugural season of the Xtreme Football League, which starts next month.

The roster of advertisers is a victory for World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, which jointly owns the XFL with NBC. WWFE, which has seen its wrestling telecasts become frequent targets of viewer advocacy groups, is handling national ad sales.

XFL President Basil DeVito said XFL sales have reached a 60% sellout rate on ad inventory for the three network venues.

Among the advertisers are American Honda Motor Co., Anheuser-Busch, AT&T Corp., Burger King Corp., M&M/Mars, Nike, Procter & Gamble Co., the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.

"To this point, I haven't seen any pressure groups affecting the XFL's ad sales, because [the groups] tend to collect forces around challenging content on a reactive rather than proactive basis," said John Rash, executive director of national ad buying for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. Other buyers said some advertisers were willing to take a risk on the XFL by putting "out clauses" in their contracts. Such clauses allow an advertiser to get out of its commitment if, when the league debuts, the advertiser feels content of games is sexual or violent.

"If the XFL sticks with its premise [of] being a much more violent game and having scantily clad cheerleaders talking about off-the-field exploits with players, it could turn off some advertisers," said one ad buyer who requested anonymity.

As an unproven newcomer, XFL is said to be selling packages of three 30-second spots-one spot on each of the three network TV outlets-for some $150,000 (about $50,000 per unit). However, buyers said the nascent league also is looking to sell larger flights to advertisers.

With General Electric Co.'s NBC reportedly committed to matching the $50 million investment WWFE put into the XFL, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said he thinks the partners will turn a profit in the league's third year (2003). That's after a combined investment in excess of $100 million for the first two years of games.

Mr. Freeman is senior editor at Electronic Media.

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