Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito sees one big reason to expect the XFL to be a success: If it’s on TV and there’s a line on the game, people will bet on it.
The relaunched football league kicks off its first season Saturday and Sunday with four games on major broadcast networks (KVVU-5 and KTNV-13 in Las Vegas) and ESPN. That will be the case throughout the 10-week season, along with a few games on FS1 and FS2.
“There’s a huge correlation to being able to watch the game to betting on the game,” Esposito said, noting the prominent networks involved.
The eight-team league features teams mostly in major media markets — the Dallas Renegades, (Washington) D.C. Defenders, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats, New York Guardians, Seattle Dragons, St. Louis Battlehawks and Tampa Bay Vipers.
The top four teams advance to the playoffs, and the championship game will be April 26 on ESPN.
The XFL, backed by World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon, had an infamous one-season run in 2001 that included nicknames on jerseys and two players fighting for the ball at midfield instead of a coin toss.
This version of the XFL eschews those gimmicks, though it is tweaking football rules in several important ways.
The most prominent change is the elimination of extra-point kicks. Teams can choose to go for one, two or three points by running a play from the 2-, 5- or 10-yard line, respectively, meaning a team can be down by up to 18 points and still be within two scores.
The other major change is allowing a team to throw two forward passes on one play, as long as both are behind the line of scrimmage.
Other changes include:
— One foot in bounds for a catch.
— Touchback rules that heavily encourage kickoff returns and discourage punts.
— A five-round shootout-style overtime that involves alternating plays from the 5-yard line.
— The clock stopping on each play inside two minutes and not restarting until the ball is spotted.
— A 25-second play clock to help speed up play. (The league said it hopes all games will be over in fewer than three hours.)
— Only two timeouts per team, per half.
— All replay reviews by a replay official (no coaches’ challenges).
Amid uncertainty about how the rules changes would affect scoring, only Circa Sports had totals posted on this weekend’s games Thursday. Both Saturday games were at 48 and both Sunday games at 47 after all four games opened at 44.
Westgate sportsbook director John Murray said books have a template for the XFL in last year’s ill-fated Alliance of American Football, which had financial issues and didn’t finish its inaugural season.
“You start by looking at the coach and quarterback depth chart,” Murray said. “Then you move pretty aggressively, since the lines are much softer than in the NFL. The good teams in the AAF identified themselves pretty quickly.”
That coach-quarterback combination is one reason the Dallas Renegades are the preseason favorite to win the title at +250 at the Westgate. Former longtime Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops leads the Renegades, and one of his former Sooners, former Pittsburgh Steelers backup Landry Jones, will be under center.
Esposito pointed to Houston Roughnecks coach June Jones, who led innovative offenses at Hawaii and Southern Methodist, as someone who could thrive in the new league.
Esposito agreed with Murray that the book would adjust “way faster than we ever would” in other more established leagues.
Murray said unfamiliarity with the teams would probably keep handle low on the games, with each game taking less than an NBA game.
“We don’t know what to think about these teams, but the bettors don’t either,” he said.
Esposito was more optimistic.
“I’m looking forward to it. I really am,” he said. “I went to the first [XFL] game here (in Las Vegas in 2001), and it was fun. You can’t overestimate the correlation between watching the game and betting on it.”
A quick look at the teams in the XFL, listed in order of their odds to win the title at the Westgate:
Dallas Renegades;Bob Stoops;Landry Jones;+250
Tampa Bay Vipers;Marc Trestman;Aaron Murray;+400
Houston Roughnecks;June Jones;P.J. Walker;+500
D.C. Defenders;Pep Hamilton;Cardale Jones;+600
New York Guardians;Kevin Gilbride;Matt McGloin;+600
Los Angeles Wildcats;Winston Moss;Josh Johnson;+800
St. Louis Battlehawks;Jonathan Hayes;Jordan Ta’amu;+1200
Seattle Dragons;Jim Zorn;Brandon Silvers;+1600
Week 1 lines
HOME team in caps (odds from Westgate)
Tampa Bay;2½;NEW YORK