On Sundays during the NFL season, fans are overwhelmed online with awe-inspiring plays of one-handed catches, 360-degree spin moves and bone-crunching hits.
Instead, the XFL treats fans to videos of beer cups stacked on top of one another and players shotgunning hard seltzers. While there are videos of highlight plays out there, those are not the ones that make it to mainstream media.
Can the XFL’s strategy, which focuses on speaking to current trends of today’s popular culture, last beyond a thought experiment?
On the plus side, the XFL is moving toward becoming part of the quick soundbite space. More than 1.1 million people viewed the beer snake within the first four hours of the XFL’s post. Thousands of fans reacted to follow-up posts of the snake, which included quotes from speeches by Steve Jobs and other pop-culture memes.
It’s important to note: all of these posts are coming from the official XFL social media account.
While the league has struggled in television ratings, dropping to 1.4 million average viewers per game as of last weekend, a social media-focused approach can increase the XFL’s reach exponentially. When a beer snake makes national media headlines, why wouldn’t the XFL go after a virality strategy?
This strategy is what has kept the XFL in the weekly headlines, even through Week 5 of the inaugural season of the revamped league. The league’s approach has resulted in consistent in-stadium engagement, as attendance across all four games actually increased from 69,818 fans in Week 1 to 81,942 fans in Week 3.
In Week 1, the most popular video from the week was players from the St. Louis BattleHawks chugging Bud Light seltzers following the team’s first win. The scene resembled that of a team celebrating its first championship, but the strategy worked for social media. More than 3.3 million people viewed the video on Twitter.
With multiple posts breaking the 1-million view mark, the XFL can overcome its weak television ratings through its social media-focused strategy. Perhaps the in-stadium attendance will increase as a result of the weekly virality.
While these posts may be wildly entertaining, there is a disconnect between the XFL’s vibrant social media presence and its relatively bland on-field offerings. The game with the infamous beer snake was actually rather lackluster outside of the stands, as the DC Defenders defeated the St. Louis BattleHawks behind just 256 yards of total offense.
The other issue with the XFL’s on-field product is the lack of talent in the league, which could even prove as a long-term hindrance if the XFL remains relevant in years to come. The XFL lacks household names — some might know former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones or former Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller Landry Jones, but these players don’t have the star power to make fans turn their heads.
The long-term issue is that XFL players may use the league as a stage to showcase their potential NFL-caliber talent. This could result in some of the XFL’s biggest stars leaving the league in search of a career at football’s highest level.
For those fans who tuned into the XFL to see the novelty of the football game itself, the league’s lack of seriousness on social media can be disappointing.
“Seeing the players chug/shotgun bud light seltzer made me wish it was a 1 week season,” Twitter user @chad_dewhirst tweeted in reference to the BattleHawks’ seltzer-chugging video.
“Yea this league is really gonna last...in its 5th week of existence the biggest story line is fans stacking plastic cups,” @RealJoeyy commented on a tweet by the XFL’s official twitter praising its fans for their beer snake.
Fans like these might be a bit disappointed with the weak on-field product, but the XFL does provide fans an outlet for football during the spring. More importantly, it gives fans of teams like the BattleHawks their only hometown team.
The XFL can take lessons from triple-A baseball by catering to a small but loyal base of hometown fans in medium- to large-market cities.
“These fans are different,” DC Defenders safety Rahim Moore said to the Washington Post. “I don’t know if the XFL is paying these dudes to be this loud, but the energy is just crazy."
Right now, the XFL’s social media virality is keeping the league afloat. Whether that virality continues to draw in fans beyond its inaugural season is still left to question.