The XFL has returned after a three-year absence and has managed to command a strong audience in North America following its return. The league initially returned after a 19-year absence in 2020, but was forced to shut down operations within a month of the campaign. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has been responsible for driving up interest in the XFL following its return and using his unique personality and status in the world of entertainment, the XFL has produced strong numbers on television and in attendance at games.
The XFL is not going to challenge the NFL anytime soon for its dominance of television and the media landscape. Back in 2001, Vince McMahon would have dreamed of the audiences that the XFL is currently receiving. It has highlighted the reward of The Rock’s perseverance, the appeal of American football, and top-quality marketing to pinpoint the best qualities of the game. There’s a lesson for other sports and industries to take forward using the XFL’s advice, which could even be bad news for Canada’s own sports such as the CFL, with greater riches and better publicity available south of the border.
The XFL’s appeal has been to spot a gap in the market. Spring football was not available before the league opted to play games almost immediately after the Super Bowl. There were issues with the standard of play in the previous iteration under McMahon in 2001, but there has been a notable improvement in 2020 and 2023, targeting former NFL players and college players that have just missed the cut in the NFL. This has been reiterated in the XFL’s marketing campaign; it is repurposing itself as a minor league and is not trying to sell itself as a rival to the NFL anymore, which even The Rock has admitted during television interviews.
The whole operation deserves a great deal of credit considering that television ratings have resulted in the XFL outperforming the NHL and college basketball in the opening weeks of the 2023 season.
The XFL is not the first company to reinvent itself. It follows the path of companies such as Netflix which famously began as a DVD rental service before becoming a streaming behemoth. Just as Netflix has grown, there are ample opportunities for the XFL to similarly explore. Given that sports betting and online gambling are now a prevalent part of NFL, there could be avenues that the XFL can use to build further brand recognition in the United States and potentially Canada to beat out the CFL.
The NFL teams and the NFL itself have formed gambling relationships with sportsbooks, and there is no reason why the XFL cannot target sports betting sites or even casino sites, where they could use the XFL branding with their own slot game. It would not be the first company to use brand recognition to target users from a different demographic. There is a broad appeal for known websites such as Jackpot City among others to have a variety of games on offer for its customers. It is a gap in the market as there are no branded sports games currently available on casino websites. Even using The Rock himself as a potential face of the league could benefit the XFL through these gaming sites or sportsbooks.
The XFL has a bright start to its reinvention, but the journey for the league is only just beginning. The viewing figures have remained strong outside of the season’s opening weeks, giving hope that the audience is not just tuning in out of novelty or curiosity. It could be here to stay for the long term, which can only benefit American football as a whole.
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