History of the XFL

For those who followed sports in 2001, there’s a good chance you’ll remember the massive lead-up and media attention that the brand new XFL managed to generate upon its launch. It promised to be a more action-packed, wild, and violent game than traditional American football.

Its creator, Vince McMahon, was already known for his WWF fame, so he decided to use everything he found to be successful with sports entertainment to create his own football league.

XFL Banner

Unfortunately, lightning did not strike twice for the pro wrestling billionaire. The XFL lasted all of one season. The league burned out quickly, as it did little to win fans over.

Despite the colossal failure, Vince McMahon decided the story wasn’t going to end there. Nearly two decades later, McMahon brought the XFL back and relaunched version 2.0 with a kickoff on February 8th, 2020.

But has McMahon and the league learned from their past mistakes? Will the league succeed this time around?

McMahon Announces XFL in February 2000

XFL 2001 LogoIn February 2000, Vince McMahon held a news conference in New York City and was joined by Dick Ebersol, who was the chairman of NBC Sports at that time.

In the news conference, McMahon introduced the idea of a league that would be an alternative to the NFL, wherein the game would be amped up.

It would be more exciting, faster-paced, and most of all, it would be more fun. McMahon had famously dubbed the NFL as the “No Fun League.”

The XFL was designed to be a new concept, yet still promised to be “100% football.” For many people, the concept was confusing and the press conference apparently led to more questions than answers.

There’s also the fact that over time, there have been many other sports and leagues who have all tried to go up against the NFL, lure away their audience, and become the most popular sport in the US. Throughout all of their hopes, dreams, and plans, none had been successful.

McMahon promised that fans would have a whole new experience based on the following differences:

  • Coaches with live mics on them so fans and viewers could hear what was being said.
  • Huddles on the sidelines would have cameras time, giving viewers the inside look.
  • Locker rooms would have microphones throughout, giving people a more complete picture.
  • There would be audio and video coverage of the locker room before the game to help create hype.

TV Networks Were Onboard

Although fans seemed confused at first, it appeared as though McMahon was able to sell his vision successfully to the TV networks, as several of them agreed to broadcast the games. In addition to NBC, both UPN and TNN agreed to air the live games on Saturdays and Sundays, making the XFL viable for viewers.

Another unique feature about the league, players would all come in and be paid the same base salary. This, of course, is a massive difference compared to the NFL where salaries are all over the board. Each player was on equal footing with the XFL.
2001 XFL Teams
The goal was to start with six teams, but McMahon quickly changed his mind and increased it to the following eight teams:

  • Los Angeles Xtreme
  • Birmingham Thunderbolts
  • Las Vegas Outlaws
  • San Francisco Demons
  • Memphis Maniax
  • Orlando Rage
  • New York Hitmen
  • Chicago Enforcers

How Did the 2001 Season Play Out?

The season officially kicked off on Feb. 3rd, 2001. The regular season consisted of 10 weeks where all eight teams would play. It was followed with a two-week postseason where conference winners played in the title game to determine the season’s champion.

The ratings, live attendance, and merchandise all started off with solid numbers; fans were excited. They bought into McMahon’s hype over what the XFL was going to be.

Unfortunately, as the season progressed, the ratings and live attendance fell. Merchandise sales came to a screeching halt. The only thing that rose were complaints from viewers. These complaints ultimately became the downfall of the XFL.

Too Many Rule Changes

Perhaps, the biggest complaint from fans and the media were the rules; they were always evolving or changing. It made it hard for the players to truly excel, and difficult for the fans to follow along.

When you think about any professional sport, the rules are very specific and certainly don’t change on the fly. Modifying rules during the season does nothing but cause more disarray and confusion, and it calls legitimacy into question.

Inferior Level of Play

In addition to the constant rule changes, the players weren’t “good” compared to the NFL or even college football. Although they had previous professional experience, the on-field execution was poor.

Unfortunately, the players weren’t the sole cause of poor on-field play, it seemed like the plays were poorly designed and the coaches were out of their element as well.

The only thing that came out of the on-field play was that fans and critics believed it was too violent. So, not only was it an inferior quality of action, but fans began tuning out due to violent play.

Too Gimmicky and Over the Top

Fans couldn’t even connect with the players because they wore nicknames on their uniforms instead of their real names. It made them seem more like characters than athletes.

The XFL also appeared to create “staged storylines,” like they did in the WWF, to draw up interest and have them play out on the field. The announcers didn’t bring credibility to the broadcasts either, because they were hyping up the antics rather than calling the game.

If that wasn’t enough to turn fans off, TV broadcasts became rather racy and sexualized thanks to the cheerleaders. Of course, the cheerleaders had to be just as extreme as the game itself.

Ultimately, the XFL became a football version of the WWF, and it ended up killing the league.

The Relaunch of the XFL

Even after the league was long dead and gone, Vince McMahon still owned the rights to the XFL brand. In 2018, McMahon decided to revive the league and bring it back to life. At the time, there wasn’t a push for it, or a call from fans to re-launch it, so the announcement came as a surprise to many.

While its name would remain the same, McMahon promised this time around that the league wouldn’t feel like the football branch of wrestling. This XFL wouldn’t hold on to all of those entertainment gimmicks that turned so many people against the league.

Instead, McMahon promised a simpler form of gameplay in comparison to the NFL, fewer controversies on the field, and a faster game that would be more exciting for fans to watch and follow.

McMahon initially hoped viewers would forget about the complaints that destroyed the league back in 2001.

Why Bring It Back Now?

With the popularity of the NFL rising beyond all expectations, and a public demand for football content year-round, focus groups were created to get real feedback and suggestions on the idea of another pro football league.

Armed with data and lessons learned, Vince McMahon was determined to bring back the XFL bigger and better than ever. But that’s all centered on what the public wants.

From what was made known to the media at the time of the relaunch announcement, fans wanted a football league during the NFL’s offseason from February through August. McMahon believed his league could fill in that demand.

Still Only Eight Teams

From the initial announcement that the league was returning, the XFL spent the next year hiring credible football minds to run the league like former NFL player and NCAAF official Oliver Luck to be the league’s commissioner.
XFL Original Teams
From there, they hired reputable football coaches for the following eight teams:

  • Dallas Renegades
  • Houston Roughnecks
  • Los Angeles Wildcats
  • New York Guardians
  • Louis BattleHawks
  • Seattle Dragons
  • Tampa Bay Vipers
  • DC Defenders

These cities were picked for their strong football fanbases and large media markets, and none of them were in the Alliance of American Football (AAF) league that ran in 2019.

Rule Changes for XFL’s Relaunch

One of the exciting things about the relaunch was that the XFL was making some changes to the standard NFL game. The following is a brief list of some of the notable rule changes:

  • 25-second play clock
  • Game clock continues to run nonstop until the final two minutes of each half
  • Kickoffs feature teams lining up five yards from each other at receiving team’s 30-yard line
  • Two forward passes allowed per play
  • Only one foot needed inbounds for a catch to be legal
  • Touchbacks for punts start ball out at 35-yard line
  • All skilled players on offense have radios in helmets to hear plays
  • No kicking for extra points, only conversions from two to 10 yards out

A Focus on Solid Players

Another focus of the XFL was to bring over credible athletes who have had success on different levels, including in the NFL, CFL, AAF, and college football. Former NFL QBs, Landry Jones, Cardale Jones, Josh Johnson, and Matt McGloin were just a few of the top names leading this league.

The XFL still has a fair pay scale for all players, but QBs can earn up to a few hundred thousand depending on their play.

All eight XFL teams have numerous former NFL players and draft picks on their rosters. Prior to the start of the season, fans and media outlets were intrigued with the level of former NFL and collegiate talent, as the XFL did its best to create parity.

The 2020 XFL Season

The relaunch of the XFL was met with a favorable response from the public. The first games kicked off on February 8th, 2020, and they drew large crowds with strong TV ratings. Although the ratings have declined some since opening weekend, live attendance figures have been holding steady.

Markets like Seattle, St. Louis, and Houston have proven to be strong supporters of the XFL. In fact, St. Louis has been incredible, averaging over 28,000 fans per home game and the highest local TV ratings.

While television ratings for the first week of the 2020 season were solid, public interest started to slowly decline with each passing week. Some teams, like the Houston Roughnecks, enjoyed solid attendance numbers. Others, like the LA Wildcats, struggled to fill seats.

After five weeks of play, the XFL was forced to cancel its season on March 20 as a result of the global situation that unfolded. Unlike other leagues that held out hope of resuming their seasons eventually, the XFL decided at that time to simply cancel the remainder of the league’s inaugural campaign.

What Does the Future Hold for the XFL?

XFL LogoUnfortunately, there may be no future at all for the XFL. Less than a month after canceling the season, the company that owned the XFL filed for bankruptcy. Just before doing so, the league laid off its entire staff.

At the time the season was canceled, the XFL’s brass promised that the league would return for a 2021 season. Now, that’s highly unlikely.

Alpha Entertainment, which owned the league, said it had liabilities between $10 million and $50 million.

Shortly thereafter, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the league’s controlling owner, Vince McMahon. Luck claims that McMahon breached the terms of Luck’s contract when he was fired in April.

McMahon had initially claimed that the XFL had enough money behind it to last at least three seasons. Sadly, the unforeseen circumstances presented by the public health situation and the league’s subsequent bankruptcy means we will likely never know what the future may have held for the XFL.

Now, there’s a strong chance we’ve seen the last of it.
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