The XFL Kicks Off; What Worked, What Didn’t And What It Needs To Do To Stick Around

Social media. Gambling integration. The magic of New Jersey sports betting apps and a (reasonably) good product.

These are the elements emerging from Week 1 of the 2020 XFL betting season.

The league had a strong start and if the deep-pocketed backers have patience, this winter-spring NFL-ish league can make it.

That’s a significant “if” but this league has some aggressive, powerful ideas.

Here is my perspective.

XFL 2020: What worked

The league understands, acknowledges and embraces gambling, which is a huge plus for the XFL as they fight for viability.

One phrase defined the marriage of football and wagering in the first XFL game.

“The over bettors thought they had cashed the ticket already.”

ABC announcer Steve Levy said it after an imminent touchdown did not materialize during the fourth quarter of the DC Defenders’ 31-19 victory over the Seattle Dragons.

The final score, landing right near the over-under total of 50.5 and the spread of DC -7.5, indicated books like DraftKings Sportsbook were right on the money where they put the line.

Levy’s phrase was oft-repeated in the fourth quarter when Seattle took a field goal off the board because of a penalty and then fumbled near the endzone, losing the “over” and the cover.

Contrast this with the NFL, which bad-mouthed gambling for years even as its owners bet on games. 

Its announcers mentioned betting in code, as when Al Michaels once said a game-ending field goal was “pushed” left, meaning the spread bet was a tie and that it was “under” the crossbar, rewarding the under bettors in the over-under.

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XFL partners with NJ sportsbooks

The league further underscored its gambling allegiance, having partnered with DraftKings and FanDuel sportsbooks just before the first game.

DraftKings announced its partnership with the XFL late in the week. Then came FanDuel just a day before the opening kickoff.

The books are listing the line and the over-under in the game graphics.

A viewer could instantly determine how the game shaped up versus the line and one of the prop bets.

SugarHouse listed the XFL odds, and William Hill (now Caesars NJ) notched a Sunday promotion awarding money for one, two or three-point conversion for every $25 bet.

NJ mobile apps have a built-in wagering base. If they market toward the XFL, it will help themselves and the league.

The quality of play was good

The action was brisk. It resembled high-level college football and the Canadian Football League.

The league earned instant credibility with the presence of NFL names, such as:

  • Jerry Glanville
  • June Jones
  • Jim Zorn

Week 1 winning teams:

  • DC Defenders
  • Houston Roughnecks
  • New York Guardians
  • St. Louis BattleHawks

Week 1 losing teams:

  • Seattle Dragons
  • LA Wildcats
  • Tampa Bay Vipers
  • Dallas Renegades

Home teams went 3-1 straight up and against the spread. The under was 3-1. There was an upset with the BattleHawks upending the Renegades.

Perfect timing

The season was launched on the heels of the Super Bowl and during a blasé month for most sports fans.

Baseball hasn’t started yet, and March Madness is a month away. The NHL is a great product, but it’s not heavily bet.  The NBA is popular, but the playoffs don’t start until May.

The XFL found a sweet calendar spot.

The schedule is a six-hour block with two games every weekend day. The games will not be all over the place; however, they are confined to that window, from now through the end of April.

Speaking of time, the 25-second clock was a strong innovation. There was no time to be distracted.

This clock helped teams simplify their offenses, avoiding sophisticated motion schemes and blocking assignments that bog down NFL games with false starts and offensive holding penalties.

Twenty-five seconds means calling the play, getting it off, hustling to the line of scrimmage and calling the next play. The idea is to get the same amount of plays for an NFL game in under three hours.

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Up close and personal

The league brought viewers.

Fans could witness the discussions of the replay officials, who quickly came to decisions.

An interesting non-call came in the Wildcats-Roughnecks game on Saturday, in which a Houston defender had made helmet-to-helmet contact. But the replay booth explained there had been no “launch,” the equivalent of intent, and ruled against pass interference.

Microphones recorded coaches calling the play, announcers interpreting it, and telling viewers where the play was going before the snap.

It remains to be seen whether in-game bettors will try to use this or if they can get the bet registered in time. But it was a win for NJ sports betting fans, who don’t know the players.

Game rules worked. We saw one- and two-point conversion runs, more 4th-down conversion attempts and real chances for punt runbacks because the punt team can’t release until the ball is kicked.

Additionally, fans actually had the benefit of seeing multiple possessions without a break, even after a turnover.

No dreaded TV timeout. The league knew it could not give viewers a reason to flick the channels.

XFL 2020: Limitations

With only eight teams, the stakes of the late-season games could lag if teams fall out of playoff contention.

Even more importantly, not all the major markets are covered.

There is no team in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, even as Pennsylvania has legalized online gambling. There is no team in Chicago either, a major sports market.

Where will be the rivalries? What about bad weather? Fortunately, this has been a mild winter

What will it take to make the XFL successful?

Play up the gambling in each telecast.

Have a personality who discusses the bets, talks about different wagers, and even shares tips on how to bet.

Track how teams have done in certain betting areas. Have some gambling contests on the telecasts, both free to play and some aligned with the sportsbooks in New Jersey.

Go all in, acknowledging what the NFL never has, that without gamblers, you have no league.

Maintain the programming that consists of fewer commercials, especially early in the game. This will be even more crucial when competition for viewers comes from March Madness.

This is a race.

Hang on and build year to year, and it can own a winter-spring niche.

This league should do all it can to partner with the NFL to build its brand throughout the fall. That would provide some momentum for the league. It is worth giving up some piece of the action to the NFL in return.

Utilize the month of February, when it can thrive with less competition. And ultimately, expand.

About the Author

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.