The XFL – Past, Present…Future?

By Shaun Blundell – @Shaun_F10Y

As we get ready to welcome back the XFL in 2020, we are back with your second installment of your XFL history lesson as we look back at why the project failed the first time around.

Why Did The XFL Fail?

Walk Before You Can Run –  Talk about jumping in at the deep end! Vince McMahon is a very successful businessman, but he didn’t know a lot about football. Despite this, in February 2000, a press conference was held in New York City announcing his intention to form a football league. Bear in mind the fact that he had yet to hire a single coach, a single player, no teams, no stadiums and also at this stage no TV network to broadcast his product. Good luck in a single year creating an entire sports franchise. The man obviously has deep pockets, and getting NBC involved in the project provided further financial clout to the venture. These things are not cheap though, and with estimates of the initial set up costing around $100 million the league was under huge pressure to succeed and start repaying that investment from day 1. Allowing themselves some more time could have prevented some of the mistakes that were about to happen.

IMAGE CREDIT – Tom Hauck /Allsport

The Competition – The biggest mistake that the XFL made from its outset was deciding to compete directly with the NFL. Billed as a more violent and aggressive brand of football there was a naivety that fans would flock to the league in their droves, however that isn’t what fans want. The NFL is the elite level of American Football where only a small number of people make it. This isn’t because they are violent or aggressive individuals, its because they are elite athletes. In effect it was the equivalent in English football terms of trying to compete with the premier league but asking vanarama players to play the actual football. For the XFL to believe that the football product in a new league would be better was ludicrous.

The WWE Brand – They tried to camouflage this by using the “sports entertainment” angle which has seen McMahon make his billions within WWE. Superstars from the McMahon wrestling business were brought across to promote the league and some were hired to be part of the broadcast teams. Stars such as The Rock were trotted out and commentary was provided by Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, who even admitted himself he had no interest in football. Jesse “The Body” Ventura was hired as an analyst, even though he was still an acting governor at the time. This approach however created a huge problem of its own. Having so much crossover with the wrestling brand led to several people believing that the games were actually pre-determined despite bookmakers actually taking bets on the games.

Too Much Sex – The use of cheerleaders is common around NFL stadiums today but the XFL was blatant at selling the sex appeal of these ladies in its marketting. The whole product just came across as cheap and nasty, so much so that they had cameras placed inside cheerleaders locker rooms and teased fans at what they might be able to see. I think it’s pretty safe to say that wouldn’t fly these days! The league was ridiculed in the mainstream media and by sports journalists alike with it being described as “a cross between high school football and a strip club”.


Viewing Figures – These issues combined ultimately created the league’s biggest problem and ultimately its demise, a lack of viewers. For any product to be successful you need an audience in which to sell it too and unfortunately for the XFL that audience just wasn’t big enough. The opening night game on NBC attracted plenty of viewers, intrigued at a new venture and possibly waiting to see what crazy ideas Vince had brought to the table. By season end however the ratings were the lowest ever for any major network primetime weekend first-run sports television broadcast in the USA. NBC pulled the plug after only 1 season and left the league without a major TV home. Expansion teams were discussed and other networks were talked to but nothing was ultimately agreed and the XFL was no more, or so we thought.

It was announced in January of 2018 that the XFL would make a return, with games set to begin in 2020. In the next part of this mini series we will look at who will be taking part and what the league needs to do to make sure its a success next time around.

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