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Sunday, March 25
Updated: March 27, 6:18 PM ET
NBC won't tolerate ratings tailspin



NBC could give the XFL the boot if television ratings don't show a marked improvement.

NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said the network is prepared to pull the plug on the fledgling league if ratings fail to show a significant gain during the final two weekends of playoff games next month, the Washington Post reported in Monday's editions.

"We all want to see it work," Ebersol said Sunday at The Players Championship golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "The evidence through 75 percent of the regular season is not promising. We have a two-year commitment ... but it's going to have to show a marked swing in the ratings in the postseason for it to have a real shot beyond this year, just from an advertising standpoint."

The numbers tell the story. Overnight ratings from the Las Vegas-Los Angeles game Saturday night on NBC drew a dismal 2.1, the same overnight number as a week ago. The national number, released last Thursday, was a 1.6 – the lowest-rated show in prime-time history.

"A decision on whether to go or not go would be made no later than the end of April," Ebersol said in Monday's Post.

The XFL playoffs are scheduled April 14-15, with the championship game on April 21.

The XFL, a product of the World Wrestling Federation, had a two-year agreement with NBC that also included the network spending $100 million over the first two seasons.

The money seemed justified after the first week of the season, when the game drew an impressive 9.5 rating for its season-opener and won that Saturday night's ratings race for the network. The ratings didn't last, however, and they've been in a tailspin ever since, with a season-low 1.6 last week. A rating point equals 1.02 million television households.

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Vince McMahon, creator of the league, said the XFL could continue next year without NBC but would need another national television outlet to survive. League games also are carried by UPN and The National Network (TNN), but they show poor ratings as well.

McMahon could not be reached Sunday.

"One of the few minor surprises was that the public and the media did not really respond to 'The Little Engine That Could' aspect of the league," Ebersol said, referring to teams having mostly unknown players playing for $50,000 a season.

"It didn't seem to resonate the way I thought it would," he said. "Not having stars emerge at the beginning in the first two or three weeks certainly didn't help us. There is a sports culture that worships stars. ...We obviously did not deliver something they expected, or wanted. You don't watch 'Smackdown' to watch wrestling. It's The Rock, it's Stone Cold Steve Austin. Stars matter. We believed we could make stars."

If NBC does end the partnership after one season, the network stands to lose about $45 million on its initial investment, according to industry sources.

 




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