WWFE, NBC Send XFL to Scrapheap

World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. and NBC punted their start-up XFL gridiron circuit onto the pigskin junk pile last Thursday, after talks to continue showing games on United Paramount Network fell through.

Though the league kicked off to strong ratings for its February debut, its audience for games on NBC, UPN and TNN: The National Network didn't stick around past week one.

"We didn't deliver what they wanted to see," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said in a conference call with reporters. "They came. They just didn't come back."

WWFE said its after-tax losses on the league tallied about $35 million. Ebersol said NBC would lose about $50 million on the venture.

After NBC decided not to air XFL games next year, the league's inability to secure distribution on UPN "was the straw that broke the camel's back," WWFE chairman Vince McMahon said.

The XFL also reached out to the National Football League to see if the league would support its new competitor, "but there was no answer," McMahon said.

After a preseason marketing blitz that hyped everything from cleavage-strutting cheerleaders to its "no fair catch" rule, the league jumped out to a strong opening weekend, scoring a 9.5 Nielsen Media Research rating with its NBC premiere on Saturday Feb. 3.

TNN also tackled a big number with its first XFL game on Feb. 11, pulling a 2.4 rating and 1.9 million households for the Sunday afternoon contest. But the numbers quickly fizzled, dropping to a 0.34 rating in the last TNN game in April, and a 0.9 average for the season.

"We would have liked to have seen it succeed," TNN spokeswoman Cheryl Daly said. The network continues to have a strong relationship with WWF through its Raw is War
series, the top-rated show on cable, she added.

While the league's advertising push lured many fans to watch its first week, it was criticized for showcasing weak-armed quarterbacks and a quality of play that was marginal overall.