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Disney reshuffles XFL schedule in effort to boost viewership

Four spring football league games moved from FX to ESPN and ABC.

13 March 2023 Josh Sim

Getty Images

  • XFL is in first season of a five-year broadcast partnership with Disney
  • Week three saw an average of 571,000 viewers across four games

US media giant Disney has moved some of its upcoming broadcasts of the XFL spring football league to its more popular ESPN and ABC channels in a bid to generate better ratings.

The league is in its first season of a five-year global broadcast deal with Disney, with all 43 games airing across a combination of ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and FX. It is also being broadcast on the ESPN+ subscription streaming service and simulcast in 142 countries globally.

However, the XFL, returning for its third iteration this year, has generated disappointing TV ratings so far, with the opening round only watched by an average of 1.3 million viewers across four games.

Viewership has since declined further, with the third week of games averaging 571,000 viewers across four fixtures, which according to Sports Media Watch was a 13 per cent drop from the previous week. Three of the matches aired on pay-TV network FX, while the other game was shown on ESPN2.

Now, Disney has announced that four XFL games are to be moved from FX to its more high-profile channels.

In week five, the Houston Roughnecks’ clash with the Seattle Sea Dragons will now be shown on ESPN.

Two further games in week six have also been moved, with the Sea Dragons’ encounter with the Orlando Guardians to be broadcast on free-to-air (FTA) channel ABC and the Roughnecks’ game against the DC Defenders to air on ESPN2. A week later, the Defenders’ game against the Guardians has been moved a day earlier and will be shown on ESPN at 6pm ET.

Two other games in week seven are now to switch channel. The San Antonio Brahmas’ fixture against the Vegas Vipers has been moved to ESPN2 from ESPN in an earlier time slot. The other match moved features the St Louis Battlehawks taking on the Roughnecks, which has been pushed back a day and will now air on ESPN instead of ESPN2.

SportsPro says…

Clearly, Disney has realised its XFL schedule needed to change given ratings for the current season have been significantly down on previous years.

In 2020, the XFL averaged less than one million viewers for only two of its 20 games, which is a stark contrast to this year, where nine of the 12 games so far have averaged below the one million mark.

FX has limited experience in showing live sport, so the XFL and Disney will be hoping that the move to ESPN and ABC will help increase audiences and give the competition added exposure.

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