It sounds ridiculous on the surface. How can a first-year startup league in any way influence or affect a 100-year-old league in the NFL? There is no competition here. The National Football League is the king of all sports and entertainment.
Football is America’s #1 sport and the NFL is the diamond standard standing alone at the top. The XFL, despite all the positive steps it has taken in a long nearly two-year process, is a longshot to survive. The graveyards are filled with the corpses of all past pro football leagues that have tried to simply exist in the sports world.
There are questions all abound when it comes to the XFL. Will the league find a way to become profitable and sustainable? Will the XFL and its partners at Disney and Fox, have the patience to go through all the struggles that start-up leagues inevitably experience? Will the XFL find an audience that will put their faith in a concept that has burned football fans so many times in the past?
Market research tells the XFL that football fans want this and that they will watch. That’s a matter up for debate. One thing is for sure, the NFL will be watching come February 8th.
ESPN’s Steve Levy, who will be calling weekly XFL games on ABC, has recently stated on ESPN Radio, that the NFL wants the XFL to work. It’s one of the top reasons that he cited for the XFL working this go around.
The original XFL changed the football landscape. Unbeknownst to some who weren’t watching nearly two decades ago in the pre HD television era. The way all college and NFL games are broadcast today changed when the XFL broadcasted football in an entirely different way back in 2001.
The XFL’s camera views and expanded audio access changed football broadcasts forever. It sounds like the current XFL has some new tricks up their sleeves in this department again.
Pat McAfee, Dianna Russini and Tom Luginbill have been hired to take on the role of ‘field analysts’ who will be given unprecedented access to the field, players and coaches during games.
The XFL has also tested new ways of presenting the game visually with its TV partners. The league has been working with tech partners to present the game in a different way than we have seen it. It sounds like a tall task. After all, we are approaching the year 2020 and what possible innovations could the XFL present that we haven’t seen already used in College Football and the NFL.
We are going to find out when the Seattle Dragons play the DC Defenders in February on ABC.
Then there’s the matter of the on-field play. The XFL is supposed to be releasing their game rules soon. Some will be seen as radical and some will be seen as a breath of fresh air. Like the XFL footballs, which were tested and designed for player performance. The XFL has been testing its innovative new game rules for over a year now with players, coaches, and referees.
Their goals as a league are to speed up the games, improve upon officiating with a quicker and more efficient process, eliminate the meaningless plays in football and the downtime that can slow or bog down the on-field action. Easier said than done but there’s no doubt that the XFL’s research and development in this area have been extensive. The NFL will be watching all these innovations closely when they are tested for real in February. As reported by Sports Illustrated earlier this year, the NFL had executives watch the XFL test their on-field innovations with players in the Spring League.
The XFL will reportedly be testing for performance-enhancing drugs but their hopes are to not test for marijuana use. This is a potentially big evolutionary step for the XFL. The league already has a health advisory committee headed up by famed Doctor Julian Bailes and other medical professionals.
The use of marijuana by players is a health issue. In the XFL, players will have full medical, dental and vision coverage. One of the areas of wellness that has emerged over the years is the benefits to marijuana use for players, in dealing with physical pain. Many NFL careers have been shortened due to players’ reliance on Marijuana for physical and mental health reasons. This potential policy could change how the NFL treats and looks at this matter going forward.
The XFL is the land of opportunity for all coaches, players, referees and football office personnel. Close to 500 players will be given the opportunity of playing pro football in the states on major television networks. That alone will be a valuable experience in advancing professional careers. For the players, it’s getting a real chance to display their talents by actually playing.
The NFL and all of its teams will certainly be scouting and watching the players that play in the XFL. The quality of the XFL’s play and players could change the NFL’s current player and roster structures.
There are hints of this already. The NFL is looking to potentially extend their regular season to 17 games. The NFL is also looking into expanding its in-season practice squads and regular-season rosters. The argument against this is whether or not, it’s necessary for the league to expand from 63 players (Active and Practice Squad) on a roster to 70 or 75.
One of the arguments against it is watering down the overall quality of play. If the XFL proves that there is plenty of quality pro football players that should be in the NFL. This will open up more opportunities for players. It also presents the potential idea of NFL expansion down the road. The league is at 32 teams now but the XFL might show that there is room for more teams to be added in the future.
There’s also the issue of futures contracts in the NFL. When a player finishes a season on an NFL practice squad. There is an opportunity presented to those players in signing a futures contract with prospective NFL teams.
It’s great for a player to extend his hopes of one day being on an NFL roster and it carries them temporarily over to the next season. The issue is players on futures contracts do not get paid until March. The first of the NFL’s league year. So these players are technically on NFL rosters but do not reap any benefits. No practice or playing time for months. This is where the XFL could factor in for a few of these players in January.
The choice is to be on an NFL roster until the new league year when NFL teams add players through free agency and the draft in the spring or go get actual playing time and get paid in the XFL. The mere existence of the XFL might change how many players are on a practice squad and how much they get paid. Currently at 125k for an entire season on the Practice Squad. According to ESPN, the XFL’s assigned quarterbacks can make up to 500k per season.
We have seen hints of this already in the early stages of the XFL. Promotions like being a Guardian for a day or team get-togethers or giving fans sideline seating and on-field access. One of the knocks against the NFL is how their product is much better served for fans at home than at the games.
Fans prefer the experience of watching Red Zone or tracking their fantasy teams in the comfort of their home. Not only are the XFL games extremely affordable but the league is looking to enhance the live stadium experience for fans. If the XFL hits on a few of their fan-friendly concepts. NFL teams will surely be looking to adopt the concepts for their league. The XFL already has a partnership with the 49ers through Elevate Sports. So one of the NFL teams is already a witness and a partner to this already.
Will the XFL put all their chips in the middle of the table or hedge their bets in year one? A handful of the XFL’s initial eight cities have legalized gambling and others are edging towards it in the future. Will the networks and the XFL openly embrace point spreads and over/unders as a way of marketing and selling their games? It’s still a taboo subject on NFL broadcasts.
Broadcasters like Al Michaels, will from time to time make hints of a point spread or an over but it’s certainly not embraced or at the forefront of the telecasts. The XFL could go all in and embrace point spreads and openly make them the topic of a game that is yet to be decided in the 4th quarter?
Gambling adds drama and intrigue to every game. Regardless of whether or not, the game being played is competitive. Back door covers and bad beats like highlighted on ESPN with Scott Van Pelt could become regular discussions during XFL broadcasts. Will the NFL follow suit if the XFL finds a way to finally accept the elephant in every football room?
Alternate pro sports leagues have brought on great change in the past. Like the ABL introducing the three-point shot to basketball. A concept that was initially frowned upon and not used in the NBA or NCAA for decades. Alternate football leagues in the past have introduced two-point conversions and many other innovations that the NFL has adopted over the years.
Not all of the XFL’s concepts and innovations will work or stick but there’s a good chance that a few will. Whether it’s in the league’s original form or not. Even failed leagues have brought on the change. Most times for the betterment of the sport.
It’s one of the lures of these leagues and the reason why the XFL existing is positive. Nothing will ever be competition to the NFL and playing in the spring is designed specifically to avoid the NFL and college football.
The XFL is in a position to bring positive change to the sport of football and how sports leagues operate in general. If done right, they could change the way the NFL operates and does business in the upcoming decade.
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