This past Thursday Vince McMahon, chairman and founder of the WWE, made official what we all suspected back when he cashed in around $100 million worth of WWE stock last December: He is officially relaunching the XFL Football League!
When McMahon cashed in the stock and formed his new Alpha Entertainment, he also filed for new trademarks for the XFL, so this announcement was expected eventually. The original trademarks lapsed between 2002 and 2005.
Vince gave a lengthy interview to ESPN following this announcement, but I am going to attempt to quickly sum up for you what we learned vs. what I partially expected us to learn.
What We Learned About The 2020 XFL:
- There will be 8 teams across the country in a 10 game schedule beginning in January
- 40 player roster per team
- Players will not be allowed to use the playing field for social or political stances
- No one with a criminal record will be allowed to play (which rules out a ton of existing on-field talent)
- Goal of 2 hour run time for all games
- No cheerleaders or previous XFL gimmicks
What We Would Have Learned If This Were The Gimmick Filled 2001 XFL:
- Players would be encouraged to drink alcohol on the field and fraternize with the cheerleaders (who worked week nights at local gentlemen’s clubs)
- Concussion Protocol? Nah. You would need to be concussed to play in this league
- Helmet-to-Helmet hits not only allowed, but encouraged. (Where else would you hit people?)
- Previous criminal record not required, but a plus!
- Concealed Carry on the field? Hey, it’s a constitutional right
In all seriousness, the odds are surely stacked against the XFL. No other league has competed with the NFL and come out on top (USFL, World League, original XFL) and WWE does not exactly have proven success record outside the ring (original XFL, WWE Studios).
But the landscape is different now than it was in 2001. Vince and company have debacle of the XFL‘s sole previous season under their belt to learn from. They also have 2 years to develop and fine tune their product before bringing it to market, as opposed to last time where they had less than a year to prep.
The NFL also has had consecutive years of declining ratings. Between players kneeling during the national anthem (which Vince said will not be tolerated in the new XFL), the frequency and length of commercial breaks, the league’s friction with (Vince’s friend) President Trump and the confusion of what the hell is a catch anymore, aggravation among fans is at a all-time high.
“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” McMahon said. “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”
In the XFL‘s previous incarnation, ownership was equalling split between the WWE and NBC Sports. This time, Vince’s new Alpha Entertainment will have total ownership and control.
“I can say, ‘Here are the rules, and as long as you are playing football in the stadium for us, you follow these rules.'”
The rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Youtube and (cough) WWE NETWORK (cough) bidding on live sports also means there are many more options for distribution.
But more viewing options also means more competition. McMahon was adamant that the WWE talent will be kept separated from this new venture. Will the league be able to get a foot in the door of fan’s living rooms without established, well known personalities helping to promote it?
While the XFL will still need to compete with the NFL for on and off field talent, beginning the XFL season after the conclusion of the NFL’s is a smart move to avoid competing head-to-head for viewership. This was something that the USFL understood when it began operations in 1983.
The USFL was successful until Donald Trump (then owner of the New Jersey Generals) pressured the USFL to move their season from the Spring to the Fall in order to directly compete with the NFL in 1986. Unfortunately, the NFL had deeper pockets, more talented players (with a few high priced exceptions) and simply a better product than anything the USFL could put on the field, which led to the quick demise for the USFL.
I’m not saying the USFL would still be in business today if they hadn’t moved their schedule, but they did prove that there is a large enough market for successful late winter/Spring football. If McMahon can assembly a quality product (with some decent on-field talent this time), I think this venture has potential.
Win or lose, one thing is for sure: When Vince McMahon puts all his might behind something, he makes it entertaining!
What are your thoughts on his new XFL?