The first week of XFL 2020 is in the books, and the reviews generally have been positive. The first game between the Seattle Dragons and the DC Defenders on Saturday afternoon averaged 3.3 million viewers, peaking at 4 million in the final 15 minutes of the broadcast. Social media engagement also appeared high.
XFL betting also generated more interest than anticipated. Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the betting handle a week after the NFL season ended.
PointsBet handled more money in Week 1 of the XFL “than we did across the entire (truncated) Alliance of American Football season last year,” said Matthew Chaprales, director of content for PointsBet USA. Of course, this was a goal of the XFL — to be more progressive regarding sports betting.
“We are embracing the spread from the start,” said Jeffrey Pollack, the league’s president and chief operating officer. “This is a core business strategy for the XFL. We understand that for a lot of our fans, betting on the games has become as essential to the game experience as the helmet, ball and jerseys. That’s what we’re gearing up to provide. Our mission and our infrastructure are geared to the sports-betting future that is coming fast. There are incredible opportunities.”
Both major XFL television partners, ABC/ESPN and Fox, had the closing spread and total on their score bugs at the bottom of the screen and openly discussed the betting ramifications near the end of the games. VSiN also conducted two live, in-game BetCasts via iHeart Radio.
The most line movement in Week 1 occurred in the totals. The first sportsbook to market on the totals was Circa Sports in Las Vegas. It hung 40¹/₂ on each of the four games, and all were bet up substantially to closing numbers in the low 50s.
It proved very difficult to set totals numbers since no data to go on really existed, as the teams played no preseason games. The league clearly wants more scoring, with certain rules in place that favor the offense. But we saw only one game go over the posted closing total (LA at Houston). It will take some time for offenses to get their timing down and put their various philosophies in place.
The extra-point conversions throw many algorithms and general point-spread math out of whack. There are no traditional PAT kicks in the XFL, and the offense can go for a one-point conversion from the 2-yard line, a two-point try from the 5 or a three-pointer from the 10. In a traditional football sense, 3 and 7 are key point-spread numbers. But with these conversion rules, there are essentially no key numbers.
With only one week of XFL action, bettors and bookmakers alike will be even more prone to recency bias. That should give smart bettors opportunities to take advantage as there looks to be a great deal of parity in this league.