Hey, XFL, your next franchises are watching with great interest in OhioSporting News — (Bill Bender)
The XFL enjoyed its first weekend and must survive a full season before it can start thinking about spreading to other markets in the future, but that doesn't mean we can't start looking ahead.
During the opening weekend, the four games drew 12 Nielsen ratings of 4.0 or better across nine markets , including at least one in seven of the eight XFL cities. The only market with a XFL franchise that didn't hit that number was Los Angeles.
Along with Kansas City, the only other two cities that 4.0 or better and don't even have a team? Columbus and Cleveland. That should surprise nobody in Ohio and should be on the XFL's radar for next season.
Ohio is one of the most football-obsessed states in the country, and the XFL should establish a foothold in that state like what they have with Houston and Dallas in Texas. Add one or both markets, and chances are it would work.
Let's make the case for both.
XFL in Columbus
Columbus drew a 4.5 for the Seattle-D.C. game on Saturday, and one reason is clear. It's the Cardale Jones bump. Jones led Ohio State to a national championship in 2014, and a large cross-section of that viewership had to be Buckeyes' fans with nothing better to do on a Saturday in February.
Would that work for a full season in Columbus? It would be worth the experiment. They could play in the Columbus Crew's current venue at MAPFRE Stadium or the new stadium, which is under construction.
Now, one might look at the Columbus Crew – which ranked 21st in attendance out of 24 MLS teams in 2019 – or the Columbus Blue Jackets – which rank 23rd out of 31 this season – and say this would never work. They might even point out the one-year stint of the Ohio Glory in the World League of American Football in 1992. (Hey, at least they had cool uniforms .)
Try these attendance figures instead. The Columbus Clippers – the city's minor-league baseball affiliate for the Cleveland Indians – ranked second among AAA teams . That Ohio connection matters.
None of those sports are football, and Ohio State routinely draws record numbers for spring game. If Jones started for a XFL team based in Columbus, then they would sell out every game.
XFL in Cleveland
The Cleveland market drew a 4.6 for Seattle-D.C. on Saturday (perhaps the Jones bump), but it also did a 4.0 for Tampa Bay-New York on Sunday.
Seven of the eight XFL franchises have a NFL franchise, and here is how Cleveland's NFL team ranks in attendance compared to those seven:
*Denotes combined average of Jets, Giants
**Denotes combined average of Rams, Chargers
The Browns ranked 17th in attendance despite being a 6-10 dysfunctional mess in 2019, and that number will increase with improvement in 2020.
Plus, the city had a good-standing run with the Cleveland Gladiators in the Arena Football League from 2008-2017. The Gladiators made to the Arena Bowl in 2014, too.
The city could support a XFL team in the same fashion.
In other words, bring the Gladiators back. Even if Cleveland can’t support it, Northeast Ohio could. A place like Canton, which could play right next to the Pro Football of Fame at Fawcett Stadium, could work out, too.
Bring it on.
Which one is better?
Given the choice between the two cities, Columbus would be the better investment.
It’s centralized in the state and has enough people who follow the Buckeyes, Browns and Bengals that could attach to the team for some affordable football entertainment. It might be a smaller cult following, but the Blue Jackets and Crew have devout followings. A XFL team could get that, too.
Given how well St. Louis did with the ratings on opening weekend, it would be wise for the XFL to explore markets that do not have a NFL franchise. Columbus is that market.
If they can add two, even better. A Columbus-Cleveland XFL rivalry would be natural and has never been explored properly. A Columbus-Detroit rivalry would be even better, given the natural Ohio State-Michigan ties. It’s also worth knowing that the last Michigan professional football team to win a championship was the Michigan Panthers in the USFL in 1983.
This version of the XFL might be the most interesting professional football launch since the USFL, because there are earmarks there that could make it successful in the right places.
Columbus and Cleveland are those places.
If Vince McMahon wants this to keep moving, then he needs to bring out the belt.
The Rust Belt, of course.