The NFL and other professional sports leagues in the United States spent years resisting allowing fans to bet on games. However, the XFL has embraced betting from the start. The league even went as far as to consult with bookmakers and encourage broadcasters to integrate gambling information into their broadcasts, but has the XFL’s embrace of sports betting paid off?
What is the XFL?
The XFL is a professional football league based in the United States and owned by Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment. The league, which was founded in 2018, has eight teams and two divisions. Unlike the NFL, all eight teams are owned and operated by the league. The league originally ran in 2001 as part of a partnership with the WWF and incorporated WWF style entertainment segments. However, the original run lasted just one season. Current XFL games are conducted similarly to NFL games, but with rule changes intended to make the game shorter and more action-packed.
The inaugural 10-game XFL Schedule began on Saturday, February 8th, 2020 and was set to run until Sunday, April 12. However, the regular season was canceled after 5-weeks, as part of an effort to protect players and fans from the spread of the coronavirus. It remains undecided whether the league will conduct its planned two-week playoffs when fear of the virus subsides. They have committed to resuming play in 2021.
How Has the XFL Embraced Gambling?
The XFL partnered with sportsbooks that offer betting lines from the start of the league, with league owners indicating that they hoped to see the expansion of legalized online sports betting in the United States. Indeed, gambling laws likely played a role in selecting the cities who would host the league’s eight teams, given that Florida is the only state with an XFL team that has not either passed or introduced legislation to legalize online sports betting.
The league reached out to Las Vegas sportsbooks to provide betting information for fans and broadcast partners ESPN and Fox have each partnered up with sports betting services, allowing them to integrate sports betting into their broadcasts. Broadcasters put the over/under and spreads right on the screen, alongside the score, during broadcasts. Additionally, the XFL developed its sports betting app, called PlayXFL which allows fans to win cash prizes for correctly predicting the scores of XFL games.
The XFL also drafted its rules with gamblers in mind. After consulting with bookmakers, they adopted rules intended to eliminate “near-automatic” plays, such as point-after kicks, and shorten the play clocks to allow the league to fit the same number of plays as an NFL game into a shorter time. They also created rules intended to make it easier for the trailing team to make a comeback, with the end goal being to keep the spread in play longer.
Is the League Succeeding?
The league’s opening season was greeted with general positivity from fans and mixed reviews from critics. The opening week drew a viewership of 3.1 million fans, however, that number had declined to 1.4 million by week 4. Pundits indicated that if the league could sustain viewership in the range of one to two million viewers, the league would likely survive, however, if viewership continued to decline it probably would not. It remains to be seen whether fans will return in similar numbers when the league resumes play after the shortened 2020 season.
How Has the League Impacted Sports Betting?
Despite the resistance from the NFL, fantasy sports and sports betting on NFL games have been wildly popular for years. The XFL offers football fans the opportunity to continue this popular hobby by introducing a league that operates shortly after the end of the Superbowl through much of the NFL off-season. Additionally, they make it easier than ever for fans to indulge in betting and fantasy sports by building gambling partnerships right into the league and the broadcasts.
The opening weekend of the league saw modest amounts of betting by fans with totals substantially lower than a typical NFL game, but higher than many college basketball and some NBA games. The amount of money bet on XFL games has vastly outperformed the shortlived Alliance of American Football League. The league is optimistic that fans will continue to embrace betting on the games and that the online integrity program they required all coaches, players, and officials to participate in will prevent gambling from affecting the integrity of the sport.
With the first season having been artificially shortened, it is difficult to fully assess the success of the XFL’s attempt to integrate gambling into the core of the XFL’s brand. However, initial signs showed some promise and as fans and oddsmakers become more familiar with the league, the XFL may be able to capitalize on their position to extend the football betting season beyond the end of the NFL season, allowing football fans to enjoy their hobby year-round.