After four weeks of XFL games, there are many signs that spring professional football is a viable business—but there’s still many factors on the venue side that must be evaluated.
After four weeks, a total of 298,259 fans have attended XFL games, with the league overall averaging 18,641 fans per match. That average, however, is skewed by the St. Louis BattleHawks (28,540 a game) and Seattle Dragons (25,616 fans per game) attendance figures. At the bottom of the league attendance standings: the New York Guardians (14,875 fans per game) and the Los Angeles Wildcats (13,595 fans per game).
XFL games are played at a variety of venues: former NFL stadiums (1), NFL/MLS stadiums (1), MLS stadiums (2), NFL stadiums (2), former MLB ballparks (1) and university stadiums (1). A motley crew, to be sure, and one that’s not necessarily TV-friendly: Globe Life Park and MetLife Stadium will tend to look empty no matter what, as there’s no way a team will fill those looming grandstand seats in the background.
There is no discernable pattern as to the attendance numbers: St. Louis is the leading XFL draw and is the only team playing in a non-NFL market, indicating there is pent-up demand for football after the departure of the Rams, but otherwise the numbers are all over the board. Yes, Seattle sports fans are a little on the crazy side in turning out for spring football in bad weather, and yes, Los Angeles remains a bad pro-football market. Texas should sport strong markets for pro football, and Dallas and Houston are good draws despite playing in unusual pro venues, to be sure.
We’re guessing talk on the 2021 XFL season is already underway, and it would not be surprising if there is not a team shift or two then. The conventional wisdom is that a viable pro league needs a New York City team as a presence in the media center of the United States, but MetLife Stadium and its 82,500 capacity may not be the best fit for a league where the sweet spot will be 25,000 fans a game. (Think MLS, not NFL.) Similarly, Los Angeles is a challenging football market on every level. And springtime in Tampa means baseball and playoff hockey, not pro football.
Though the Alliance of American Football was a total flop, it did bring us some usable data in the form of spring-football attendance. Three teams averaged more in 2019 than the XFL is averaging in 2020: the San Antonio Commanders (27,721 per game), Orlando Apollos (19,648 fans per game) and the San Diego Fleet (19,154 fans per game). No one else came close. Now, there were some clear gaps between announced and actual attendance in the AAF, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that San Antonio should be seriously considered as an XFL market, with a suitable facility and a proven fan base for spring football. Similarly, Orlando has a suitable facility in the form of Camping World Stadium and an AAF team that attracted more fans than are the Tampa Bay Vipers. And someday a new San Diego State University stadium could play host to an XFL team.
Speaking of the St. Louis BattleHawks: the team announced Wednesday that the upper decks of The Dome will be available for their March 21 game against the Los Angeles Wildcats. Fans had been calling for more capacity for BattleHawks games, and you can expect to see a league attendance record once the upper levels are available.
Image courtesy The Dome at America’s Center.
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