The XFL is back, Bay-Bay!
And I couldn’t care less! Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like wrestling and football – just not together in any shape, manner, or form. I’m stoked for the Royal Rumble this Sunday and the Super Bowl after that. But I don’t want Tom Brady winning the Universal Championship from Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. And I don’t want Vince McMahon running my football programming. We’ve been down this road before in 2001, and it just doesn’t work.
The new XFL is slated to kick off in early 2020 with 8 teams of 40 man rosters and a 10 week regular season. Games are expected to be shorter than normal games, lasting only about 2 hours, because Vince McMahon believes watching a three hour game is “laborious”. Ironically, this “laborious” time limit doesn’t apply to his flagship WWE program Monday Night Raw, which runs 3 hours every Monday evening.
Another big difference is an effort to make this new league more family friendly. In order to make that happen, no players with criminal records will be allowed in the XFL, which would seem to totally shut down its ability to draft from most major college programs today. McMahon says that even DUI’s will preclude someone from playing. While I’m supportive of cleaning up the game, this is quite humorous when you realize the massive number of wrestlers with criminal records, who still have jobs in the WWE.
Players will also be required to stand for the national anthem, which sounds like its best selling point at this stage. Hopefully, this family-friendly version includes having real football analysts calling the game this time, instead of wrestling announcers “Good Ol' J.R.” Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler.
The XFL has no media backing at this point, but that’s not worrying McMahon. He’s confident that new technology, such as Facebook and streaming services, can carry the fledgling promotion even if TV shuns him. WWE has experience with streaming services through their online WWE Network, but that should actually give them pause. WWE’s original goal for online network subscriptions was 3 – 4 million paid subscribers, but they struggled to surpass 1.5 million paid subscribers for their iconic brand after three years. How can they expect to challenge the NFL through only online services? It doesn’t seem like a phenomenal tactic.
Expecting to spend about $100 million, McMahon is reportedly planning to fund the entire project himself. It isn’t part of the publicly-traded WWE. It is part of a new entity he formed, called Alpha Entertainment, owned exclusively by Vince McMahon himself. With a two year lead time, McMahon says he will be listening to coaches, players, and most especially the fans to hear what they want in a pro-football league and shape the XFL accordingly. He also believes it will give more time for teams to practice and prepare ahead of the inaugural season,
producing a better, more entertaining product. This makes some sense, since one major knock on the old XFL, besides its ridiculous rules, was subpar play.
The original catastrophe that was the XFL held its one and only season in early 2001 at the height of wrestling’s popularity during the “Monday Night Wars” with WCW. It opened with big fan interest and strong ratings in the first week, but viewership steadily dropped through the season. By the end of the championship game (“The Million Dollar Game”), the XFL was a clear failure with TV channel’s no longer interested in carrying the dying league for a second season.
The 2001 version was built around the idea of “xtreme”, eschewing many of the traditional rules of the game in favor of gimmicks that detracted from the game more than added to it. They had no opening coin toss or opening kickoff; instead, two players were forced to scramble for a football to decide opening possession. No PAT kicks were allowed, demanding rather that teams run a play from the 2-yard line for the single point after touchdown. And perhaps most terrifying of all, no fair catches were allowed, resulting in brutal hits that looked more at home in a gladiatorial arena than a football stadium. More than one looked like they would need the Undertaker to dig a hole and take a soul. These were only a few of the differences aimed at revolutionizing football in the same way WWE changed wrestling. But many of them appeared to be written by people who had never actually played football or had any concern for the players’ wellbeing.
McMahon promises that the XFL has undergone an attitude adjustment. The old gimmicks are gone, including the cheerleaders who looked like they came straight from the strip club:
“But we aren't going to have much of what the XFL had, including the cheerleaders, who aren't really part of the game anymore.
The audience wants entertainment with football, and that's what we are going to give them."
No word yet on whether Vince McMahon still plans to put the NFL in a headlock and make them smell the street. It’s impossible to know how this will all play out. Success seems unlikely, but with two straight years of NFL viewership decline, there seems to be some window of opportunity, if even very slim. Ultimately, only time will tell, and that’s the bottom line cause Stone Cold said so!