Seattle Sea Dragons fan Image Credit: Sean Keeley

By my count, there were at least 25 Seattle Sea Dragons fans wearing full-body dragon costumes at Lumen Field on Thursday night.

Considering the stands were not even remotely close to being packed, that’s a not-inconsequential percentage of Sea Dragon faithful who were there to cheer on their “other” local football team against the St. Louis BattleHawks.

It was certainly representative of the kind of crowd an XFL game can cultivate here in 2023. The number of people who showed up for Seattle’s home opener wasn’t much, but those who did brave the 30-degree weather were loud, engaged, and, in some cases, all dressed up.

The football itself was, admittedly, mostly forgettable. The Sea Dragons raced out to an early 9-0 lead but squandered that with a series of turnovers and sluggish plays. A.J. McCarron and the BattleHawks chipped away the deficit until they took a 17-12 lead with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. After the Sea Dragons went back ahead by a point, the BattleHawks cemented their reputation for late fourth-quarter heroics by winning on a walk-off field goal.

Such are the perils of the XFL in 2023 as the league tries, for the third time, to capture the attention of football-obsessed Americans at a time of year when they’re still not used to needing to care. All the bells and whistles in the world can’t mask mediocre football, especially when you don’t have a longstanding tradition to fall back on.

The original version of the league tried to insert professional wrestling’s pomp, circumstance, and pretty ladies into the equation, but disinterest in the football product undid any interest those things created.

The 2020 version had a somewhat-improved football product and also leaned into the storyline drama that their sideline reporting could generate. If not for a global pandemic, perhaps it could have lasted.

The 2023 version seems to have jettisoned the media angle that seemed to work so well and has put the football front and center. The focus now for audiences at home is access to the playcalling and the hope that they’ll connect with the BattleHawks, Brahmas, and Roughnecks in a way that hasn’t been possible in previous incarnations.

It remains to be seen how viable that strategy is. The ratings for Week 1 were pretty rough. However, if there was a bright spot last weekend, it was anytime the cameras panned to the crowds. None of them were particularly large, but they certainly seemed enthused. That was the case again Thursday as it seemed as though a smattering of Seattle football fans looking to scratch an itch during the Seahawks and Washington Huskies’ offseason came prepared. Quite literally in the case of those dressed up like dragons.


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Seattle is already the kind of city that enjoys rooting for an underdog, or at the very least, being the ones who were into a thing before everyone else was. The Sea Dragons give them a chance to do both at once. And they came strong, dancing on the JumboTron, screaming when the stadium DJ told them to, and cheering louder than you might expect for Ben DiNucci, Josh Gordon, and their “beloved” team.

The XFL, just like the USFL, AAF, and every other spring football league, exists to be a television product. But perhaps the league can find success, or at least a modicum of it, by focusing on the fans in the stands instead of the ones watching at home.

Build the traditions and emotional attachments that allow college football fandoms to thrive in downtimes.

Create a sense of urgency to be in the stadium donning your Dragon best (or BattleHawk best, as it were) rather than relying on them to tune in.

It seems like the league is trying. Before the game, hundreds of fans packed the sidelines to watch warmups and high-give Seattle players as they ran drills. That’s not exactly the kind of thing you can do at an NFL game.

Of course, it’ll all come down to the football in the end. It always does. Right now, most of the season’s XFL games have been low-scoring defensive affairs. Week 1’s St. Louis-San Antonio game featured a frenetic finish aided by the league’s rules, and if they can get a few more exciting stretches like that, it might help keep fan interest from waning altogether in the middle of the season.

In the meantime, the people dressed up like dragons are sure to be here for the next Seattle home game. The question is, who’s going to join them?

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to