XFL: Smaller Stadiums are a MUST if the league is to succeed

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Kieran Harm
Football and NFL Writer. Specialising in the Premier League and Bundesliga

Last weekend, the brand new XFL kicked off and most people would agree, it was a raging success. The brand new kick off rules were a revelation, the uniforms looked spectacular and most importantly – the standard of football was actually pretty decent!

However, despite all the success, there was one glaring issue for me, the empty seats at the games! The attendances themselves weren’t too bad, with every game getting somewhere between 17 and 18 thousand through the doors – but when you’re getting 17k at the 82,500 capacity MetLife Stadium – it looks terrible.

XFL Game One – Seattle Dragons @ DC Defenders – Pretty great start!

This game was probably the most successful of the whole weekend – both for the game itself, which finished 31-19 in favour of DC, and because the stadium looked pretty full.

The game was played at Audi Field in Buzzard Point in Washington DC. The stadium is home to the DC United MLS franchise, as well as the brand spanking new DC Defenders XFL team.

Audi Field has a stadium capacity of 20,000 and for the Defenders v Dragons game on Saturday afternoon, welcomed 17,163 fans into the ground – meaning the ground was 85.8% full.

XFL opening game at Audi Field welcomed 17,163 fans

Because of that fact, the ground looked pretty damn full and it made the game feel like a bigger event. The game was very enjoyable on the field, and the 17k fans in attendance created a great atmosphere from the terraces and made the event a real spectacle to witness.

Tampa Bay Vipers @ New York Guardians – Shocking decision…

The New York Guardians have chosen to play their home games at MetLife Stadium, the 82k capacity NFL ground which is home to the New York Jets and New York Giants. To be perfectly honest, hosting a game for a brand new team in a brand new league at an 82k seat stadium is ridiculous.

There were 17,634 fans in attendance at the game meaning the ground was just 21% full. To be perfectly honest, it looked and felt properly amateur – a little bit like how the AAF felt last year.

If you want this league to succeed, the stadiums need to be fuller. When an arena is 21% full, people are going to turn on, see the ground is basically empty and just think “well this sucks, I’m just gonna whack Judge Judy back on…”

New York QB Matt McGloin stands inside a virtually empty MetLife Stadium

This is what we’ve seen time and again from start-up leagues around the US. They can’t get many fans through the door, as you might expect, but they’re playing in these huge arenas – so it looks terrible.

If nothing else, it puts people off going to the games! Why on Earth would you want to go to a game wherein you know the atmosphere is going to be flatter than a New England Patriots championship game ball?

The other XFL stadiums

Houston Roughnecks – TDECU Stadium – 40,000

The Roughnecks played their first game at TDECU stadium against the LA Wildcats this weekend. They welcomed the most fans of any of the games as 17,815 were in attendance. However, they still only managed to fill 44% of the stadium.

Dallas Renegades – Globe Life Park – 52,419

The Renegades welcomes St Louis Battlehawks to Arlington, TX this weekend and were the only home side to actually lose this weekend. There were 17,206 fans in attendance at the game – meaning the stadium was just 32% full.

LA Wildcats – Dignity Health Sports Park/Stub Hub Centre – 27,000

The Wildcats haven’t played a home game yet, but will play their home games at Dignity Health Sports Park – the current home of NFL team LA Chargers as well as MLS team LA Galaxy.

For me, this is one of the better grounds due to the size. They welcome Dallas Renegades to it on Sunday for their week 2 clash, and you can expect somewhere between 15 and 20 thousand to in attendance. Pretty decent.

Tampa Bay Vipers – Raymond James Stadium – 65,618

The Vipers were probably the worst of all the teams in the XFL in opening weekend as they put up just a measly three points in their trip to New York to take on the Guardians. Their ground, Raymond James Stadium, is the home of NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and as such can hold a fair few people.

READ MORE: XFL Week one: Big kicks, big hits, big success…

In week three, they will welcome Houston Roughnecks for their first home game. They won’t be expecting all that many fans through the door, and you can expect it to be pretty empty.

St Louis Battlehawks – The Dome at America’s Centre – 67,277/40,000

As you may expect, the Battlehawks will be playing at the arena left behind by the Rams when they relocated back to Los Angeles. The stadium, which is an indoor dome, holds 64,277 people but can be reduced to 40,000 for smaller events – which it should be.

They, like the Vipers, won’t play a home game until week three of the regular season. On February 23rd, New York Guardians will come to town to see if they can topple the Battlehawks.

Seattle Dragons – CenturyLink Field – 68,740

Seattle Dragons will be playing their home games at CenturyLink Field, the famous home stadium of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders MLS team. The ground hold nearly 70,000 people – so it seems unlikely there’ll be even half of that there when they face Tampa Bay in week two.

What needs to be done?

At the end of the year, all of the teams who are currently playing in massive stadiums normally used for NFL or something else major, need to think about relocating.

The main one is the Guardians – they have no business playing at MetLife Stadium in their first ever season in existence – it just looks ridiculous. If I were them, I’d seriously consider trying to strike up a partnership with New York Red Bulls to see if they would be open to a ground share at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ.

That ground has a capacity of 25,000 and would much better suit the Guardians in their fledgling years as an organisation. If the XFL finds success, which it has a great chance to, then further down the line the Guardians could think about moving back to MetLife, or even build their own ground.

For sustained success, to continue to attract attendances of near 20k, the rest of the teams should follow suit. If the league succeeds attendances will naturally grow, but the league won’t succeed if the stadiums look half empty, or even more, every single week. People will just lose interest – as the AAF will attest to, that doesn’t take long.

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