Every now and then, someone has the bright idea to “revive” a defunct sports league.
The American Basketball Association was a high-flying, high-scoring, wide-open competitor to the National Basketball Association, good enough to eventually force a mini-merger with the NBA.
There is also a modern ABA which, like its namesake, uses red, white and blue basketballs.
Unlike the original circuit, though, this ABA is semi-pro (at best).
The new North American Soccer League (which, unless a court ruling fails to go its way, will likely fold) sought to capitalize on the name and legend of the original NASL.
But while it features quality second division-level soccer, there are no Peles or George Bests to be found.
And now – maybe – the sports world is about to see another unlikely revival in the form of the XFL.
Journalist Brad Shepard (on Twitter @TheBradShepard) broke the story, and then other outlets picked up on the news that pro wrestling mogul Vince McMahon is ready to get back in the pro football business.
Apparently, the Bombastic Baron of Brawn (if Vince starts using this he owes me a dime every time someone says it) thinks the time is right to make another go at the gridiron game.
Let’s just hope he provides a better product than he did with the XFL, which played one season in the spring/summer of 2001 and was a spectacular failure. It even holds the dishonor of owning the lowest rating for a prime time telecast in the history of television.
For those who don’t remember (and really, why should you?), the XFL was billed as old school, blood and guts football accented by the sideshow of World Wrestling Entertainment.
It had NBC and cable network contracts, and with McMahon’s financial empire behind it, there was reason for optimism.
Yet while there were some solid innovations in terms of camera and microphone usage (the NFL uses some of them now), the telecasts were marred by lowbrow vulgarity.
Taking cameras inside cheerleaders’ locker rooms was about as objectifying as it gets … I refer to it as the Perv Cam initiative. And the announcers (some of whom also worked WWE shows) threw in as many double entendres as possible.
McMahon also brought out some of his biggest wrestling stars to pimp the league with promos and in-stadium appearances, but they couldn’t make up for one, overriding factor:
It was minor league football.
And considering the fact that rosters were thrown together so quickly and training camps so short before the season opened in February, it was very bad minor league football early on.
By the time the quality of play improved to the point of making it slightly palatable, no one was watching on TV anymore.
When NBC said “No mas” to a second season, McMahon pulled the plug and the XFL was soon forgotten.
So if McMahon forms another league (and according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, McMahon sold 3.34 million in WWE stock worth about $100 million), he’ll need to learn from the mistakes of his venture into non-scripted sports.
For starters, he is forming another company, Alpha Entertainment, which is completely separate from the WWE.
That likely means his new league won’t try any of that wrestling crossover nonsense.
He also needs to avoid pretending it’s a major league.
In order to prop up the XFL he created the narrative that it was somehow “tougher” that the NFL. In reality, the best XFL team (the Los Angeles Xtreme won the championship) would’ve lost to the worst NFL team in 2001 (that would be the 1-15 Carolina Panthers) by 50 points.
Now, if he wanted to go the USFL route and bring in billionaires to buy franchises and go after top NFL talent, well, that would be another story entirely. Ultimately it would be an unwinnable financial war, of course, but in the short term it could create plenty of buzz and maybe even some Triple-A level football.
My guess, though, is he would rather come up with some sort of developmental agreement with the NFL, billing it as a spring showcase for the stars of the future.
So, as someone who is always willing to give pro sports upstarts a look, I’ll wait and see what – if anything – comes of this.
And while Vince didn’t ask for my advice, hopefully this time he’ll focus more on football and less on the cheerleaders’ locker rooms.