One successful week isn’t enough for the XFL to declare victory in its attempt to create a viable secondary football league in the United States. But there’s no denying that Week 1 went about as well as it could for the startup.

XFL Week 1
Phillip Walker led the Houston Roughnecks to a 37-17 victory over Los Angeles in Week 1 of the XFL season. (Image: Thomas Campbell/XFL)

The XFL produced strong numbers both in terms of television ratings and betting interest in Week 1, though the real test will come in seeing how well those numbers hold up throughout the season.

XFL Scores Big on Television and at Sportsbooks

The four XFL games that aired on Fox, ABC, and ESPN last weekend drew more viewers in the coveted 18-49 demographic than any other sports broadcasts. The St. Louis vs. Dallas game on ESPN came in with the lowest number at 2.50 million viewers – albeit for a cable broadcast – while the three other games, which aired on ABC and FOX, ranged from 3.29 to 3.39 million viewers.

Those numbers outpaced all other sporting events over the weekend, with the exception of the final round of the PGA Tour’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday. But that event’s audience skewed older, and was likely boosted by the fact that Phil Mickelson was in contention.

According to Fox, audiences grew throughout their broadcasts, suggesting that fans were actually enjoying the football they were watching and stuck with the games.

Sportsbooks saw just as much interest in the XFL during Week 1. Both FanDuel and DraftKings reported to The Action Network that the games were relatively heavily bet, with handle that was roughly 20 times as large as the Alliance of American Football (AAF) generated in its first week of play last year.

FanDuel also saw increasing interest as the weekend went on, again suggesting that audiences liked what they saw.

“We saw momentum build on the XFL as the weekend progressed,” FanDuel spokesman Kevin Hennessy told the Action Network. “Handle on XFL games increased 55 percent from Saturday to Sunday and bet count increased 31 percent from Saturday to Sunday.”

The XFL is trying to avoid the fate of the AAF, which folded last year before completing its first season.

Wildcats Fire Pepper Johnson After Week 1 Drubbing

In terms of the on-the-field product, nobody will confuse the XFL for the NFL. But the level of play was more than watchable, with solid college quarterbacks like Cardale Jones, P.J. Walker and Matt McGloin capably leading offenses in Week 1.

Rules that appeared gimmicky proved innovative, including the radical changes to how kickoffs work. The post-touchdown conversions added some interesting strategy to the game. Six-point leads feel much safer than in NFL or college football play, since conversions are far from automatic, while leads of up to nine points can potentially be erased in a single possession.

XFL Championship Odds

  • DC Defenders (+350)
  • Houston Roughnecks (+430)
  • New York Guardians (+430)
  • Dallas Renegades (+600)
  • Tampa Bay Vipers (+600)
  • St. Louis BattleHawks (+700)
  • Los Angeles Wildcats (+1000)
  • Seattle Dragons (+1600)

Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook

The Houston Roughnecks provided the most impressive Week 1 performance, dominating the Los Angeles Wildcats 37-17 behind four touchdown passes from Walker. The Los Angeles defeat led to the firing of Wildcats defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson after just one game.

“We recognize that there are issues we need to address for the 2020 season,” Wildcats head coach and general manager Winston Moss said in a statement on Monday. “We thank Pepper for his contributions to the Wildcats and we are looking forward to our home opener this weekend.”

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