The first season of the XFL showed a lot of promise, offering up many new innovations to help make the game more exciting for fans. But much like Charlie Sheen’s sitcom, Anger Management, viewing figures began to dwindle after the first game.
Many fans were unsure of what the XFL would offer at first. With the league’s connections to the WWE (then the WWF) through Vince McMahon, many thought that it would be a scripted entertainment show, rather than a competitive sport.
However, this was quickly put to bed when Las Vegas sportsbooks began accepting wagers on XFL games. When it was relaunched in 2020, bookmakers again began offering odds and accepting bets, just like they do with NFL betting odds. Unfortunately, this would again be short-lived.
After the league’s reboot suffered from incredibly bad timing, it looked like history would repeat itself and the XFL would disappear for good. This was despite the league serving up five weeks of fantastic football games, helped by innovative rules and features that sped up the game and brought the fans closer than ever to the players.
By mid-April, Alpha Entertainment LLC, Vince McMahon’s company that owned the XFL filed for bankruptcy. This left some-300 individuals and companies owed money, including coaches, players, suppliers, and media companies.
Several months later, and the XFL has new owners who are going all out to get the league ready for a relaunch in 2021. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen, but regardless, the XFL will leave a lasting legacy over football and the behemoth that is the NFL.
New and Better Camera Angles
It may be hard to think about now, but in the 1990s, NFL TV broadcasts were very limited compared to what we see today. For the most part, only the standard camera angle that looks down at the field from the stands was used.
The executives behind the XFL wanted to offer new perspectives to fans and created the skycam, a camera that’s suspended from cables above the field, moving around to follow the players as they charge up the field.
This provided a top-down view of the play, similar to what you’d find in some video games from the time.
The NFL had experimented with the concept before, but after the XFL introduced it in 2001, it quickly appeared in most games.
It wasn’t just a bird’s eye view that the XFL added. It had camera operators that ran onto the field after each play to get close-ups of players.
Better Access to Players and Coaching Staff
We’ve been familiar with player and coach interviews for a long time, getting their reaction after a game is an important part of the viewing experience as fans can learn about why a player was acting in a particular way while on the field.
Today, we’re also becoming more used to hearing from players and coaches during the game. The NFL has had its players wear microphones for some time, but the recordings were never broadcast live, only used for NFL films and other special content.
In baseball and some motorsports, team managers are often interviewed during a game. In fact, in the British Touring Car Championship, commentators sometimes have the opportunity to speak to drivers during a safety car period.
This is something else we have to thank the XFL for. If it wasn’t for its innovations in this area, we wouldn’t be making the progress we are today. During the 2001 season, players, coaches and referees were regularly given microphones so the fans at home could hear what they were saying. Some were even interviewed from the sidelines during games.
It wasn’t just during the game either. The XFL broadcast the goings-on in the locker rooms during half time. This meant fans got to see pep-talks and strategy discussions from coaches, and shots of players tending to their injuries.
While half time broadcasts aren’t a thing in the NFL, it is commonplace to see post-game celebrations after a victory.
Players in the NFL were always discouraged to stray from the narrative of teamwork. Although teams always had star players, they were never given the freedom to express their personality to the same extent that they are today.
Again, this was something that the XFL is responsible for changing.
During a 2001 game between the Las Vegas Outlaws and New York Hitmen, a camera operator stepped on to the pitch and joined the offensive huddle that the Outlaws had formed.
The camera then focused on each individual player, who looked directly into the camera and introduced themselves. In their own personal style, each of them bellowed their name, position, and the college that they attended.
While the NFL hasn’t directly copied this concept, the NFL has adapted the idea. The short on-screen animations of players saying their names and their college that appear on-screen during games have clearly been inspired by the XFL.
Another innovation the XFL pioneered was the idea to let players decide what was written on the back of their jerseys. Instead of the traditional name and number, players could opt for a word or short phrase.
The most famous of these was Rod Smart’s “He Hate Me” which became the XFL’s best-selling jersey. Smart’s reasoning for this choice was because he believed his “opponent is going to hate” him after he wins. He’d originally planned to change the phrase each week, but after it became a sensation, he decided to keep it for the whole year.
This is unlikely to make it into the NFL, but it could inspire more opportunities for players to personalise the uniforms in the future.
The XFL decided to create its own overtime rules that were distinct from the NFL. The 2001 format was very similar to what is seen in college football today, with each team getting the opportunity to start from their opponents 20-yard line. If they fail to score a touchdown, they switch sides and the other team has an attempt.
While the NFL hasn’t copied this directly, they have taken some inspiration from the XFL, with each player getting the opportunity to have possession of the ball.
The XFL’s 2020 rule innovations proved fruitful in the games that were played, so it may be that we’ll see some of these filter into the NFL overtime as well.
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