Professional football is taking its embrace of sports betting to newfound heights. The XFL announced Wednesday its telecasts on ABC and ESPN will feature the betting point spread and over/under points for the game alongside traditional scoreboard elements like the clock and down-and-distance. Inaugural coverage begins this weekend.
While the XFL is not the NFL, this is still another significant step forward for the previously covert world of sports betting. With the practice now legalized in 13 states, it is becoming increasingly mainstream.
“The over/under and point spread will be incorporated in our on-screen dashboard for XFL games,” ESPN’s senior vice president of production, Lee Fitting, told Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports. “When it’s appropriate, our announcers will also have conversations around the spread and over-under.”
In a previous era, Brent Musberger had to deliver lines about the over/under in code. But in the XFL, announcers can brazenly talk about the game from a gambling perspective. It will be refreshing to hear.
Vince McMahon’s XFL kicks off Saturday at 2:00 p.m. with ABC’s broadcast of the Seattle Dragons taking on the DC Defenders. ESPN will carry its first XFL contest Sunday, featuring the St. Louis Blackhawks and Dallas Raiders.
As McCarthy notes, the networks bar their NFL broadcasters from making gambling references during games, though Al Michaels is known to drop cheeky references from time to time. Given the league’s apparent sensitivity about the subject, it is notable that ESPN, which enjoys a $15.2 billion partnership with the NFL, is giving its XFL commentators the green light. Surely, the WorldWide Leader wouldn’t have permitted the practice if its most important partner was against it.
“We are bringing a spirit of innovation to our game and fan experience, and our television partners share this approach,” XFL president and COO Jeffrey Pollack said in a statement, via Front Office Sports. “We want what our fans want, and many of our fans enjoy legal betting on football. Integrating the point spreads and betting lines into our broadcasts will create a more robust viewing experience that deepens our fan engagement and connectivity.”
Pollack’s last sentence is key: everybody knows a sizable percentage of football fans watch neutral site games for the main purpose of tracking their bets. The XFL wisely decided to engage with those fans. It could be an excellent way to build loyalty, which the AAF failed to accomplish last spring.
While viewers shouldn’t expect betting lines and over/under points to appear on their NFL telecasts in the very near future, it isn’t crazy to believe the league may eventually steal this idea for itself. The NFL is cozying up to the sports betting industry, placing the Raiders in Las Vegas and holding the NFL Draft in the Sin City.
Plus, the NFL has a history of taking ideas from the XFL, especially when it comes to game presentation. Last time around, NFL broadcast partners embraced the XFL’s skycams, and also starting interviewing coaches at halftime and mic’ing players. Many of the direct player and coach engagement on NFL telecasts today started in the XFL.
It looks like history is bound to repeat itself.