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New Version of XFL Set to Kick Off in 2020 – but will it be Sidelined Like Previous Start-Up Leagues?

9 Jan, 2019

By: Michael Popke

If Vince McMahon gets his way, many people will be talking about the return of the XFL at this time next year.

The league’s founder (and current head of the WWE professional wrestling giant) is planning on kicking off a new era of the long-dormant professional football league in February 2020 — one week after Super Bowl LIV.

The XFL’s previous incarnation, back in 2001, boasted eight teams and was positioned as a more carefree alternative to the NFL. Players wore nicknames on the back of their jerseys, for example, and a no-fair-catch rule was in effect on punts. The league lasted one season.

In December, the $100 million league financed by McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment LLC officially announced the eight cities that will host XFL teams during its (re)inaugural season: Dallas, St. Louis, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. Many of those teams will play in stadiums currently occupied by National Football League teams, and the smallest venue — Audi Field in the nation’s capital city — still holds 20,000 spectators.

“For us, our budgeted line item for tickets is 20,000 per game,” XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck recently told the media arm of INFLCR, which produces software for sports team properties to store, track and deliver their content. “If we sell 20,000 per game, we will be in a good spot. We understand there might be external factors that affect that, but we believe that number is well within reach.”

DomainNameWire.com reports that the league also registered domain names for several additional cities, suggesting potential expansion. Those cities include Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Kansas City; Minnesota; Nashville; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; and San Francisco.

At a press conference announcing the first eight teams, Luck emphasized the value of player safety, family friendliness and affordability.

“He said the new league would be ‘football reimagined,’ and defined it as ‘a game that’s fast-paced, high-octane, up-tempo, with a great rhythm, a great flow, with fewer stoppages in play,” according to Forbes.com. “Luck indicated a mantra of the new league would be “less stall, more ball.’ … Luck also said the league wants to tweak some rules and use a shorter play clock in the hopes of having games that clock in under three hours.”

Observers are hailing the hiring of Luck, who is the father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, played quarterback for the Houston Oilers for five seasons and was general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy and Rhein Fire in the World League of American Football. From 1996-2000, he served as president of NFL Europe and later was team president and general manager of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer and served as the executive vice president of veteran affairs for the NCAA. 

Additionally, Doug Whaley, the new XFL’s senior vice president of football operations, spent 10 years as a pro personnel director for the Pittsburgh Steelers and five years as general manager of the Buffalo Bills.

“It was clear that if an XFL resurrection were to be successful, football people, not wrestling people, would have to be put in key positions,” notes the sports news website FullPressCoverage.com.

Here are three other things we know about the new league:

  • It will find new ways to engage with fans: “We’ve got a whole tech team working on ways fans can interact,” Luck told INFLCR. “The boundaries between gaming and gambling are starting to blur, so that may happen. We’ve even toyed with the ideas of crowdsourcing ideas such as what uniform a team should wear. These ideas are all driven by two things, giving fans more access and giving the fans a voice.”

  • It’s not out to compete with the NFL this time: “Our research indicated that fans want more football, and we intend to provide it to them,” Luck said during the press conference, adding that the startup league has had “productive meetings and conversations” with the NFL.

  • Its top players will earn at least $250,000 per season.

Unfortunately, the league has to make its way past an enormous obstacle – public opinion (or more accurately, public cynicism). Not only did the last XFL league fail, but in the past few years, there have been several other high-profile flops of alternative leagues. Major League Football cancelled its spring 2016 launch, saying it would pursue its season the following year; however, its site has not been updated since that time, and the organization will not return calls or e-mails asking for information. The Pacific Pro League was announced in early 2017 and was supposed to kick off in the summer of 2018; however, by February 2018, it had pushed its start date into summer 2019 and not much has been heard from it since.

The United Football League (UFL) played from 2009 to 2012, mainly in markets where the NFL did not have a presence at the time. However, the small league (it had only five teams) was trying to play in the fall season, meaning it had to compete with NFL, as well as with high school and college ball; this led to its demise. The United States Football League played for three seasons, 1983 through 1985 in a spring/summer format. A fourth season, to be played in a traditional autumn/winter schedule, was set to commence before the league folded. (Trivia point: one of the league’s backers was Donald Trump.) Still more start-up leagues have had similar big announcements - and met similar fates.

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