The XFL is back!
The XFL is back…
Should the NFL be worried? In 2001 “sports entertainment” impresario, Vince McMahon launched the XFL (“Extreme Football League”). As you might expect from the man behind the WWE wrestling brand it was designed to be a full on, razzle-dazzle, over the top affair. There were eight teams involved in the “Extreme Football League”, it had a spring/summer schedule with the final being played between the LA Extreme and the San Francisco Demons. The rules were adapted to make it “more of a spectacle”, games started with a “Scramble” for possession on the fifty yard line! After a positive start with regard to the viewing figures, the numbers soon tailed off, due generally to lower levels of play than the fans were used to. After just one season the league was cancelled. McMahon has just announced that he will be bringing the league back in 2020.
This wasn’t the first time someone had attempted to put on some competition for the NFL. Wealthy individuals with a passion for Football and egos to stroke have looked to set up their own leagues if they couldn’t join the NFL owners club. The most notable of these was the United States Football League (USFL), another spring league that ran between 1983 and 1985. This enterprise had a good TV deal and managed to snatch some top playing talent from under the noses of the NFL by offering huge contracts to players, and holding a draft, before the NFL held theirs. Stars such as Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker and Steve Young all spent time in the USFL. As usually happens though, the owners are never satisfied, they wanted to go head to head with the NFL to try to force a merger. One of the team owners was a certain Mr D Trump, who lobbied the others to switch to an autumn/winter schedule. They went to court, filing an ant-trust and monopoly lawsuit. The Judge found in their favour, but only awarded them $3. That effectively ended the enterprise and the 1986 season was never played.
So why would Vince McMahon want to rekindle his Football league, when his last attempt failed? It’s not the first time he has tried to expand his empire into other sports. In 1990, he set up the World Bodybuilding Federation, a foray into professional bodybuilding that took the traditional competitive structure and tweaked it to “create” theatrical personas for the athletes (just like his wrestling stars). Again, after an initial period of hype, it failed.
The original XFL was responsible for some innovations that are now present in the NFL, overhead cameras and longer point after attempts have become the norm, however, the “issues” for most Football traditionalists, were the “adult themes”, too many gimmicks and the focus on the violent aspects of the game. This time around, McMahon has said that his new version of the XFL will be more family friendly, games will be shorter and the teams will have forty man player rosters. There will be eight teams playing a ten-week regular season throughout January and February, with semi-finals and a championship game. No host cities have yet been named. In McMahons world of instant gratification, the leagues strap line is “Less stall – More Ball”.
It may be that he sees the impending collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players (the current deal expires in 2020) as a window of opportunity to capitalise on any ill feeling. The chance to join a new league would be leverage for the players in their negotiations you might say. If I were Roger Goodell or an NFL owner would I be losing any sleep over this? I think the answer is a definite no. The chances of success for this Football League are quite literally, “Extreme”.