Written by: Shane Shoemaker (@SShoemaker24)
A odd rumor surfaced on Friday that the XFL could be making a comeback and that an announcement could be made on it as soon as late January.
What started this rumor was when a WWE spokesperson responded to the rumor about the XFL’s return and that Vince McMahon had started Alpha Entertainment, which is separate, outside of WWE, “to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes.”
The rumor seems to further itself because of presumably how McMahon feels about the current landscape of the NFL. If you go back and look at the initial inception of the XFL, one of the main purposes why McMahon started the league is because “I want my football back,” he said, and that it was the “No Fun League.” McMahon was brash and cocky in his initial announcements of the XFL back in 2000, making it clear what kind of brand of football he wanted, a kind that emphasized what the X in the XFL stood for—which is still something no one knows for sure what it stood for and only assumes it stood for “Xtreme.”
But it became pretty clear what he wanted when rules like no fair catches, the race for the football instead of the coin toss to start the game and even provocative use of the cheerleaders were instilled. Amazingly, those were rules that didn’t change throughout the season like many others did.
But how would that translate now? Put simply: it wouldn’t.
In the age where the NFL is getting blasted for what seems to be their own negligent doing concerning concussion protocol, how could anyone expect the XFL to be “xtreme,” hard-hitting or have fewer rules for safety as they did the first time? Player safety is at an all-time high throughout all sports now, but especially football, so I can’t imagine that’s what McMahon would tempt to brand the image of a rebirth of the XFL on.
We’re not exactly in the “crash TV” era anymore either, where extreme violence, partial nudity and sexual innuendo are the norm … well, at least not to some degree anyways. That was what WWE was living on back in the late 90s and early 2000s, and that’s what McMahon thought—for some unknown reason—the XFL needed from its cheerleaders and goofy vignettes that would take place in the locker rooms.
Again, given the time we are in now where there is a sexual harassment or assault case taken against every male celebrity or executive of a big time entertainment company, I’d seriously doubt that any sort of emphasis toward sexuality would be displayed with the cheerleaders (or anything else). I just don’t believe that fits in this politically correct climate right now. However, that could all depend on the network it’s shown on if it happens.
Just days ago WWE announced it would be producing its first show for Facebook that would be based off multiple mixed tag teams facing off against one another in a tournament. Many assume this is WWE looking ahead to the future of television and getting a feel for the reception of how a live, weekly show would be received digitally. It could also be nothing more than WWE seeing how much USA Network values them when their deal expires in 2019. Regardless, WWE usually stays ahead of the curve in entertainment and technology consumerism, so that part is no surprise in that the company is trying to predict where their consumers are going in the future. However, if this was also a preemptive move by McMahon by gauging interest with Facebook (or even others), possibly giving the notion of saying to them that, “I’ll give you a WWE show, potentially more in 2019, but I need you to air the XFL as well.” If so, thats a brilliant move by McMahon and company.
And if it isn’t Facebook, then I don’t see how Netflix isn’t the next viable option. Netflix essentially started this digital platform that we all now know and love that most media companies are now moving to. Netflix saw the writing on the wall and started their own original content, which has been incredibly successful, but the question has always been now—what about live television, and in particular, sports? That has to be next, right?
Amazon made a deal with the NFL this season, where they do a “Tri-Cast” of Thursday Night Football across three platforms, in this case, most notably on the digital service Amazon Prime. This was previously a deal the NFL did with Twitter a year prior. Netflix has yet to venture into this territory, however, and has instead put most of their time, effort and money into original content.
The point is, McMahon has multiple options to choose from now and maybe even a greater chance of success than last time given those multiple options are essentially looking for live entertainment to broadcast–and no one else is really doing it right now. But again, the issues come from the XFL being a punchline for a joke because of the first failed attempt. I mean, how many sports leagues have went defunct only to restart again? Then you have the current state of players’ safety with concussion protocol and CTE being a headline for every major headline regarding football. This is not to mention the NFL’s overall dominance.
If true and McMahon believes that people are turning away from the NFL due to protests, I don’t believe that will be enough to garner people to want to watch his league, because its much more than just that thats wrong with the NFL right now.
Look at all the injuries to the NFL’s biggest names like Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt and others. Injuries like those then relate to bad football, which is something the XFL struggled with the first time because of the quality of athlete. How could the XFL overcome injuries, namely the concussions? Will they have different rules concerning targeting? Slightly … maybe? But injuries and concussions are something the NFL still hasn’t figured out how to overcome, and I highly doubt the XFL could either. And with news daily coming out about concussions, more and more parents are then driving their children further and further away from even the sight of football. You don’t think parents are turning off the NFL because their kids are saying, “Mom and Dad, if we’re watching it, why can’t I play it?”
The trick will be to be what the NFL is not, protect its players and make people want to watch the product. Easier said than done. However, one thing I would immediately do is having the option on what game you wanted to watch by simply clicking on the game or even switching back and forth or watching multiple games at a time, thus eliminating the idea of only regional games.
The XFL brought many things to sports and football that is still used to this day. I still believe that most things Vince McMahon touches will have some sort of innovative touch to it and be lasting in some regards, but I’m just not sure how much a second professional football league will ever be needed or even wanted back in 2001 or in the future.
UPDATED: It’s being reported that McMahon has trademarked UFL (United Football League) among a few others. Apparently, this has been on McMahon’s mind since filming the XFL 30 for 30.