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Just goes to show you some people still just wanna watch sports.



Thursday May 10 08:41 PM EDT

XFL…R.I.P. Goodbye, booty-shaking cheerleaders. “He Hate Me,” we hardly knew ye.

After a rookie season plagued by dismal ratings, poor attendance, unrelenting ridicule (oh yeah, and bad football), the World Wrestling Federation and NBC announced Thursday that they’ve pulled the plug on their fledgling “extreme” football league, the XFL (news – web sites).

Just a day after WWF honcho Vince McMahon spoke hopefully of a second season on a smaller network, pro wrestling’s version of P.T. Barnum admitted defeat, saying it was best for the company to simply cut its losses on the scrappy smashmouth venture.

“While we believe that it is an extraordinary accomplishment to have created a new professional football league in what amounts to less than a year’s time, we feel that it is in the best interests of our shareholders and our partners to discontinue the XFL,” McMahon said in a statement.

Shareholders had reason to be concerned: No thanks to record-low ratings and indifference from football fans, WWF Entertainment estimates it lost $35 million from the ill-fated league, while NBC reportedly punted about $50 million.

But McMahon and NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol remained positive Thursday in their XFL eulogies.

“I would personally like to thank the employees of the XFL and [World Wrestling Federation], the XFL fans, our partner NBC and especially Dick Ebersol and his team for their perseverance, support and enthusiasm that did not waver throughout the season,” McMahon added. “We are all proud of the creative innovations that we introduced in the production of the game as well as in the rule changes that were implemented to increase the excitement and enjoyment of the game and provide a fan-friendly brand of football.”

Added Ebersol: “Launching a new football league in such a short period of time was a daunting and exciting challenge, but we gave it our best shot in what clearly is a difficult and challenging sports marketplace.”

Challenging, that is, if Governor Jesse Ventura is the color commentator.

Despite a somewhat promising debut February 3–watched by 18.5 million curious viewers–that curiosity quickly waned. Soon, NBC was stuck with a stinker weighing down its Saturday prime-time schedule.

By the time its championship “Million Dollar Game” aired April 21, the XFL had seen its audience drop 84 percent, having already broken several all-time-low ratings records. The final face-off between the San Francisco Demons and the Los Angeles Xtreme (Los Angeles won, if you care) landed in 93rd place, drawing a measly 2.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In the end, the XFL didn’t know whether to play football, or simply ogle the scantily clad cheer-babes. Hoping to become a free-wheeling antidote to the stuffy NFL, the XFL promised a “smashmouth” style of football (not bothering with the NFL’s celebration penalties or fair-catch rule). Players were allowed to put nicknames on their jerseys (“He Hate Me,” “The Truth”). And everyone wore microphones during the gridiron spectacles, as cameramen roamed the field at eye-level.

But midway through the season, McMahon himself admitted “we’ve made mistakes,” suggesting he should have paid less attention to the glitz, and more attention to the game.

A few observers actually applauded the XFL for trying to make the game more fan-friendly. Most, however, said that no matter how big McMahon made the chorus line of cheerleaders, it still couldn’t cover up one fact: Americans didn’t want to watch minor-league football on a major-league network.