The original XFL – made for TV and dripping with a pro rasslin’ influence – was killed on May 10, 2001. The brainchild of World Wrestling Entertainment overlord Vince McMahon, the one-and-done spring league is best known for over-the-top gimmicks, sloppy football and Neilson ratings that hit record lows.
But McMahon went back to the drawing board – or laboratory, if you will – and on December 5, 2018, the XFL rose again.
McMahon, who unveiled the eight flagship franchises on Wednesday during a news conference in New Jersey, says this XFL has learned from its predecessor’s mistakes and is in business for the long haul.
The fact that he’s reportedly sunk $500 million into the endeavor certainly shows his commitment.
“A lot has changed in the years since we announced the first XFL, but what hasn’t changed is people’s love for football,” McMahon said. “And there’s a financial commitment for the long term. I think we’ll be presenting a more innovative and more exciting (style of) play.”
McMahon appears serious about making the new venture all about football and nothing about wrestling, and that’s a smart move. And planning this far in advance will hopefully mean teams won’t be hastily thrown together as they were during the first go-round.
Oliver Luck is the league’s commissioner, and yesterday’s presser suggests he’ll be the face of a circuit vastly different from the sometimes sleazy original.
In other words, there will be no more cheerleader locker room cams, bump-and-grind dance teams and double entendres from announcers.
“We’ll be family-friendly with a good, solid in-game experience for fans,” Luck said. “And we want it to be affordable for families, more affordable than other professional sports leagues.”
There are only two original XFL markets in the rebooted league – New York and Los Angeles (which also happen to be the nation’s top TV markets). During the 2001 season, the New York/New Jersey Hitmen were second in attendance with an average of 28,309 fans per game, while the Los Angeles Xtreme was fourth with 22,679 fans attending each home game.
The rest of the 2020 lineup features Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. All eight franchises are owned and operated by the XFL.
Conspicuous by its absence is San Francisco, which clearly had the biggest following in XFL 1.0 with an average of 35,005 fans showing up for Demons home games.
But one of the main takeaways from the announcement is that all teams are placed in major markets and, with the exception of St. Louis, all have NFL teams.
“Combined, these markets comprise nearly a quarter of the nation’s population,” Luck said. “The quality of football is our number one priority and we are doing everything possible to get that right.”
The XFL’s spring counterpart – the Alliance of American Football – begins play this coming February with eight teams but only two (Atlanta and Phoenix) in NFL territories.
Both leagues, however, will be going after the same kinds of players and offer similar money.
AAF players will make $250,000 over three seasons while XFL players will make, on average, $75,000 based on one-year contracts. McMahon has hinted that “exceptional” players could earn much more than that, however.
If the AAF survives its first year, players will have more options outside of the NFL and Canadian Football League going into 2020.
“Hundreds of players are cut from NFL teams every year,” Luck said. “And we plan to invite those players to try out for the XFL.”
(It’ll be interesting to see if the two spring leagues eventually merge, if one puts the other out of business, or if both go belly-up in short order. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, I’m guessing the XFL will closely watch the AAF to see what works and what doesn’t before its teams take the field).
No rule innovations were announced on Wednesday, but Luck said there are many changes in the works.
“We’ve talked about less stall and more ball,” Luck said. “We want to modify the game where it’s familiar, yet distinctive. We will have a game that’s crisp, fast-paced and can be played in under three hours. We’re considering changes to punts, kickoffs, kick returns, extra points and the play clock.”
And while the original XFL tried to brand itself as “tougher” than the NFL, there are no such ridiculous claims this time around.
“We want fewer interruptions and improving player safety is a top priority of ours,” Luck said. “We’ve established a health, wellness and safety program.”
Luck makes it clear that the new league is not the enemy of “traditional” football.
“This game will be fan-centric,” he said. “Our research indicates fans want more football, and we want to complement fall football. In the true spirit of reimagining the league, we’ve had conversations with the NFL as well as other former players and officials.”
The league kicks off February 8-9, 2020. Teams will play a 10-game schedule with two playoff games and a championship.
“We’re really looking forward to once again establishing a very exciting, innovative form of football that, quite frankly, we’ve never seen before,” McMahon said.
Stay tuned …