XFL commissioner Oliver Luck on early attendance, TV ratings: ‘Something that we can build on’

XFL commissioner Oliver Luck isn’t about to draw any grand conclusions from the first three weeks of the league’s inaugural season — a sample size of merely 12 games.

But as Week 4 approaches, he said he’s been pleased with the early returns on two important fronts: attendance figures, which are trending upward, and TV ratings, which have started to decline.

“I think with both of those factors, both of those criteria, (we’re) satisfied with where we started,” Luck told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. “I think we realize we’ve got a long way to go, still. … (But) I think we’ve got something that we can build on.”

Through three weeks, the XFL has attracted an average of 19,004 announced fans per game — about 1,300 more, on average, than the now-defunct Alliance of American Football at the same juncture last spring. Luck said the league’s goal is to have an average attendance “in the mid teens” by the conclusion of the season, with the understanding that some markets will outperform others.

That has certainly been the case so far.

While St. Louis and Seattle drew announced crowds of more than 29,000 to their respective home openers, Los Angeles has been on the opposite end of the spectrum, drawing an average crowd less than half that size (13,595).

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XFL chief executive officer Oliver Luck stands in a tunnel and watches the game during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium Sept. 1, 2018. Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

“We’ll wait til the end of the year to really draw any conclusions,” Luck said. “At this point, I think everybody’s had their home opener (but) two or three games is not much of a sample size. So those are things we have to have a full year to draw any conclusions.”

While announced attendance figures, overall, have increased by at least 7% from week to week, TV ratings have started to show signs of decline — in part because more  games have moved from over-the-air channels to cable. According to Sports Business Journal, average viewership has dipped from 3.1 million on the XFL’s opening weekend to 2.1 million in Week 2 and 1.61 million last week.

Luck was not eager to talk about viewership numbers, explaining the questions about TV ratings would be better suited for executives at ABC, ESPN and FOX, which have televised the games. He also downplayed their significance. 

“In terms of the TV ratings, there’s a million ways to look at those,” Luck said. “So many other factors play a role: Weather, competing programming, etc. So to be honest with you, we don’t even spend that much time with it.

“My message to my staff is ‘Hey, let’s focus on playing good football, competitive, exciting, good tackling, blocking, running, kicking, all those things that fans like. And everything else will, in a sense, take care of itself.'”

On the field, Luck said he’s been happy that some of the XFL’s rule changes have had their intended impact. The league’s new kickoff rule, for example, was designed to encourage returns while also protecting players. And through three weeks, more than 90% of kickoffs have been returned, Luck said, and no players have suffered concussions on those plays.

In other ways, though, the league hasn’t quite provided the excitement it promised. There have been far more lopsided games than nailbiters, with an average margin of victory of 14.4 points. And XFL offenses have not been nearly as explosive as their college or NFL counterparts; NFL teams, for example, averaged 5.48 yards per play in 2019 while XFL teams have averaged 5.08 yards per play so far. 

“I think that’s really a function of (the fact that) these are new teams,” Luck said. “You would suspect, I suppose, that defense is going to have a little bit of an edge. I think that’s going to (change) as quarterbacks get more comfortable.”

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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