Nothing can last forever in this world is a very old and true saying plus a very grim way to start any article. Even in the great world of sport our favourite stars retire or move on, golden eras for our teams eventually come to an end and in worst case scenarios teams and organisations close just to be looked back on as precautionary tales.
The XFL seemed to be one of these precautionary tales. An American football league set up in the mid noughties to be an alternative for fans of the sport to watch during the NFL off season. It was a project spearheaded by NBS executive Dick Ebersol and most importantly Vince McMahon chairman and CEO of professional wrestling giant WWF now known as WWE. It ran its first season from late winter into early spring in 2001 just after the Superbowl to quench the thirst for more action from NFL fans coming into their off-season period.
But the XFL wanted to be different to the NFL so the X in their name stood for Xtreme how very 2001 of them. The league modified rules to make games faster paced plus more intense and dangerous. It also introduced new in game features for the time like interviewing players mid game and getting players to wear microphones mid game so even the viewer at home can hear all the colourful language that comes with that sort of thing. It started off as a success and was hailed briefly as a breath of fresh air. It even pulled in strong ratings in the leagues first few games.
The success didn’t last as those strong rating nosedived fast and attendance really dwindled. These new gimmicks of the league quickly became tiresome to the purist fans of the game with many comparing these gimmicks to something you would find in the WWF and that Vince McMahon fingerprints were very evident all over the product. Also, the lack of high-level players committing to harder hits and playing with fewer rules just became jarring to watch. This all led to the XFL folding after just one season. It was a disaster for partners NBC and WWF losing $35 million on the project. The normally stubborn Vince McMahon publicly called the league a failure and his biggest and most humiliating public business venture.
It was always going to be a tall order as setting up any league is a difficult task. If you add in expensive player insurance and the difficulty of growing a football fan base especially when you add in sports entertainment gimmicks it’s impossible to set up another American football league without the involvement of the NFL.
Don’t feel too bad for Vince McMahon over the years the now WWE has turned the man into a billionaire. Yet people close to the boss always said that the XFL damaged his pride. Anyone that has heard stories on how Vince McMahon operates over the years will know the man will never turn over and take a defeat. Honestly go and look up some of his antics he truly is one bizarre old man with some mental stories about him over the years.
Anyway, it was always common knowledge about how bruised the ego of Vince McMahon was over his failure to get a grip on the lucrative American football market. This all became public knowledge in 2017 during an ESPN 30 by 30 documentary on the XFL directed by the son of Vince McMahons former XFL partner Dick Ebersol. McMahon went on to talk about bringing back the XFL and understands that serious changes to the product will need to be made for modern audiences. This seemed to drive him on as shortly after the documentary aired McMahon went about laying the foundations to revive the XFL.
People began to really take him seriously when he sold $100 million worth of his WWE stock and a few months later an additional $3.2 million worth of stock to fund his new ownership enterprise Alpha Entertainment. Shortly after this in January 2018 McMahon held a press conference with Alpha Entertainment officially announcing that the XFL would be coming back. Alpha Entertainment would be acting to keep XFL and WWE management separate. McMahon then went on the liquidated a further $270 million of WWE stock to fund the league further and said he was prepared to fund $500 million more himself. People seen this as him doing anything to repair a damaged ego as not many were crying out for a return of the XFL at the time.
It happened the XFL returned to action in early 2020 after the 2020 XFL draft and uniform reveals. The league started back with eight teams divided equally from the East and West with some very American names Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats, New York Guardians, Seattle Dragons, Tampa Bay Vipers, D.C Defenders and St. Louis BattleHawks not a boring name between them.
The modern changes included no cheerleaders, no political statements and gave fans an all access experience with live sound when players and coaches made play calls. It also kept side-line interviews but asked players about their failings too making for more compelling viewing. Most importantly it didn’t take itself to serious it understood its place as an alternative product to the NFL. It showed videos of its players shot gunning cans of beer to celebrate after a game and had a fun ethos away from the watchful eye of the NFL.
This time around the on-field talent was better showing that there is good talent away from the NFL. Fans of American football that gave this incarnation time found it to be a fun and fast paced game with the several rules changes the league brought in. It seemed to have some legs and real interest behind it for a lower tier league.
Of course, the current global pandemic took over and put a stop to that. Like many other things in the world because of Covid – 19 the XFL had to temporarily be suspended. This was the first nail in the second coffin of the league. Unlike the NFL they didn’t have a billion-dollar television contract to fall back on, its teams didn’t own their stadiums and most rented off NFL franchises during their off season, and they didn’t have a rainy-day fund to get them through. Yes, the league had a wealthy owner in Vince McMahon, but he alone couldn’t get them through this.
Because of all these factors the league had no choice but to lay off all its employees after just five weeks of play. Shortly after the XFL corporate parent Alpha Entertainment filled for bankruptcy and put itself up for sale surly putting that final nail in the XFL second coffin.
Rumours are doing the rounds that someone will attempt to buy it, but they are just rumours. It will take for another billionaire to come in and replace McMahon. The leagues revival took two years to get off the ground and just laid off the staff that could potentially get it moving again and the money it needed to grow a fan base just isn’t there.
Now because of the XFL failing again this time through seemly no fault of its own you couldn’t imagine anyone trying to start another league again for a long time. The NFL is untouchable and to big of a fish for anyone to challenge but the XFL did really try this time around to be an alternative. Fans seemed to really get behind it for its short life span and it’s a shame to see it very likely die the way it is this time around.