The XFL was a professional American football league that was originally introduced, first established and officially created on February 2nd, 2000 at a news conference in New York City by WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and then-chairman of NBC Sports, Dick Ebersol. They pushed the concept of the league as a more fun, more action-packed alternative to The National Football League (NFL), which Vince McMahon christened as the “no fun league.” The XFL was even promoted as a league that had fewer rules and a league that encouraged rougher play than other major leagues. Vince McMahon promised that The XFL would be 100% football and that the league wouldn’t have any crossover or connection whatsoever to The WWE, which raised a lot of questions on how the league would survive after other leagues that wanted to compete with The NFL have tried and have failed. There have also been questions about how legit the game play would be. Vince McMahon and The XFL also promised that the league would be totally different from The NFL and that they would bring the fans where they have never been before and they would show the fans things that they have never seen before. These things include cameras in the huddles and on the sidelines, coaches would be hooked up with live microphones and locker rooms would be wired for sound and video before and after the game. Three huge TV Networks even bought into the hype. NBC, TNN and UPN would show the games live on Saturdays and Sundays. It was said that players would all be paid the same base salary and the winning team would be receiving more money.
Originally, six teams were announced to compete in the league but at a later date two more teams were announced. Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, New York, San Francisco, and Washington were the first six teams that were announced for the league. At a later date, Miami and Washington were taken out and were replaced by Birmingham, Memphis, Chicago, and Las Vegas, making the total number of teams to eight. The league ran for only a single season, but the league had 10 games and was able to generate strong ratings for the first week of games. The debut game reportedly had 54 million views, compared to the 84 million views that Super Bowl XXXV drew. The XFL officially debuted on February 3rd, 2001 in Las Vegas and in Orlando. The American Professional Football community as well as the entire world of professional football was eager to find out what The XFL was really all about. The ratings were initially high, but as more and more games were being played, the interest from the fans and even the media died quickly. The biggest surprise of The XFL was the nicknames on the back of players’ jerseys. The moniker “He Hate Me” would be the most popular and most talked about nickname in the entire XFL. According to sources and fans, the sloppy play, the boring announcers, and even the wrestling kind of feeling would be the reasons why the league would eventually close it’s doors. It is being said that even attendance and merchandise sales were extremely successful at first, but would eventually die down as well.
The league even had an ever changing rulebook that included no fair catches (a major part of the marketing campaign), no point after kicks and the controversial opening scramble. The scramble would replace the coin toss that other leagues including The NFL would do at the beginning of their games. The scramble would consist of one player from each team and this specific player would line up on the 30 yard line, and fight to retrieve a football sitting at midfield. At the sound of the whistle, that player from each team would rush to the ball and whoever would get the ball would get to choose the possession for their respective team. This rule would result in several injuries, thus receiving multiple number of backlashes from fans and media alike. The players who would eventually get injured from the scramble rule would include Orlando Rage’s free safety Hassan Shamsid-Deen, who separated his shoulder in the very first scramble. As a result of the injury, he missed the remainder of the season. The constant changing of the rules would eventually hurt the quality of games that the teams would play as well as how well they would perform and if they could still perform at the highest level. Coaches and players even struggled with the ever changing rulebook and how well they could adjust to these changes. This would eventually lead to games having very little to a really limited and bad offensive production that was criticized as slow, sloppy and uninteresting by both the fans and the media.
Another factor that would eventually lead to the league’s demise and the quality of the games being really bad were the players. There were a total of 475 players involved in the inaugural season’s draft and each team had a roster of 38 athletes, compared to 53 in The NFL. This resulted in a lack of depth in the bench as well as in non-quarterback positions. The players that were the most eligible that were included in the inaugural season’s draft came from either The CFL, The Arena Football League, NFL Europe and the retired NFL players or previous college players who had gone undrafted by The NFL but had not yet signed with another league. According to media outlets and the fans, the presentation of the league was a source of controversy. Vince McMahon was ridiculed by mainstream sports media due to his connections to fake or pre-determined and planned professional wrestling now known as sports entertainment. This perception and reputation would eventually follow and hunt The XFL as few mainstream sports media entities would cover it and even write good things about the league, but there were those that were not kind to the league and would diminish them and put them down every chance they got.
A February 2001 edition of Sports Illustrated featured The XFL on the cover with the description being “sleazy gimmicks and low-rent football.” Vince McMahon then appeared on longtime football analyst Bob Costas’ program “On the Record” in the middle of the season. Vince McMahon’s confrontational and defiant attitude only lowered public opinion of the league. Costas later commented on his feelings on the encounter with Vince McMahon and the league as a whole, as seen below:
“Everything about it screamed to me schlock and crap. Everything that subsequently occurred validated that impression.”
The addition of wrestling elements in the league such as storylines and commentators from The WWE playing characters and skits were other reasons why the league was ridiculed and why the league eventually met it’s demise. Every team also had scantily clad cheerleaders that danced provocatively and were encouraged to participate in the storylines and become romantically involved with players. It was an environment fostered by Vince McMahon in an attempt to increase viewership according to the ESPN “30 for 30” film documentary called “This Was the XFL.” The film also indicated that the use of storylines, appearances by WWE personalities such as Vince McMahon and The Rock and games being commentated by wrestling announcers Jesse Ventura, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler damaged the reputation of the league and caused fans and media figures to believe that the action that was happening in the game was fake and pre-determined just like professional wrestling.
Accidents also plagued the only season the league had and the league itself. During the Los Angeles Xtreme versus Chicago Enforcers game in week two, a power outage occurred due to a generator not being fueled. The game was off the air for about 15 minutes before the problem was fixed, causing a huge drop in viewership. The same game then went into double overtime, and pushed back the airing of “Saturday Night Live” by 45 minutes, angering its creator and influential NBC personality Lorne Michaels. Several teams even faced a large number of injuries during the season, with two teams having to utilize their third string quarterback by the end of the season. These numerous issues led to a loss of $35 million dollars by the end of the season and the ending of the league. It was considered a huge flop by sports media outlets and personalities as well as those involved with professional football and even Vince McMahon himself called the league a “colossal failure.”
However, there are a few aspects of The XFL that lived on even after its demise. While The XFL wasn’t the first to utilize the use of the sky cam, they popularized it to the point that it is still being used and talked about till this day. The sky cam was an overhead shot that focused on the action behind the offense. It was an acclaimed choice and was picked up by The NFL as well as other football leagues. The sky cam become a staple of The NFL’s camerawork. The XFL also used a thing called The Bubba Cam, which was a concept in which a cameraman would be running on the field and getting up close and personal with the action. It did result in a couple of injuries, but was applauded for making the presentation look like a video game.
There were even a few number of notable players to come out of The XFL, including Tommy Maddox and Rod “He Hate Me” Smart. Maddox was the quarterback for The Los Angeles Xtreme and led them to win the final game of the season also known as The Million Dollar Game. He was the league MVP. He then signed with The Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002, leading them to a 10-1-5 season. He was injured after two more seasons and became a backup to Ben Roethlisberger. He was part of the team when they won Super Bowl XL in 2005. Orlando Rage had the regular season’s best record at 8-2 and they hosted the playoff games.
Rod Smart played for The Las Vegas Outlaws in The XFL and became popular for the phrase on his jersey, “He Hate Me.” It became the highest selling jersey in the league.
Smart explained the meaning of the phrase in 2004, as seen below:
“Basically, my opponent is going to hate me. After I win, he’s gonna hate me. It is what it is. It’s a saying I was saying when I’d feel something wasn’t going my way.”
He then went on to play for The Philadelphia Eagles for a single season, and then joined The Carolina Panthers from the year 2002 to the year 2006, winning an NFC Championship in the year 2003 and playing in Super Bowl XXXVIII. In total, 39 XFL players went on to play in The NFL and nine of them played in a Super Bowl, where six of them won.
The XFL was said to be a failed experiment that was a spectacle for sports media and fans, but despite its failures, the league was able to provide innovations in camera work and several noteworthy players even got the chance to play in The NFL. The 2001 season was the only season The XFL has had. Although it was promised that the league will be having two seasons at the time, NBC pulled out of its broadcast contract and its other contractual obligations for The XFL after the league’s inaugural season, citing the poor viewership as a reason and this would eventually lead to the league’s demise. WWE Chairman Vince McMahon initially stated that The XFL would continue without NBC and he even proposed the addition of expansion teams, but unfavorable demands of the league by UPN hastened The XFL’s demise, and the league ceased operations entirely on May 10th, 2001, a month after the championship game also known as The Million Dollar Game. The XFL will always be remembered for their unique kind of football.
Vince McMahon maintained control of The XFL brand after the league ceased operations, and on January 25th, 2018, he announced that the league will be making its return with a target relaunch date of early 2020. The revival of the league will be solely owned by Vince McMahon and his Alpha Entertainment, a company separate from The WWE. Before the announcement that the league will be returning in early 2020, media outlets even said that Vince McMahon was extremely serious in brining back The XFL that he even sold $100 million worth of WWE stock to fund Alpha Entertainment. During the press conference where Vince McMahon announced the revival of The XFL, Alpha Entertainment also announced that the new XFL would be starting their 10-week inaugural season by January or February 2020.
During the press conference, Vince McMahon also stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that “There is only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the original XFL had, including the cheerleaders, who aren’t really part of the game anymore. The audience wants entertainment with football, and that’s what we are going to give them.” McMahon also stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league that had eight teams), which will be revealed in 2019. Alpha Entertainment was established in order to keep the league’s management and operations separate from that of WWE.
McMahon also said that the new XFL will discourage political gestures by players during games (such as, for example, taking a knee in protest), and will forbid any player with a criminal record from participating. He justified this by stating that The XFL would be “evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are”, and that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained”. He suggested that the players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their personal time. McMahon did not reveal any specific details on rule changes that the new XFL would feature, but did state that he aimed to reduce the length of games to around two hours (in contrast to the current standard in American football, which generally runs slightly over three hours). He also noted that by announcing it two years in advance (unlike the original XFL, which was only announced one year in advance), there would also be more time to prepare the league in order to deliver a more desirable product.
McMahon denied that the timing of the announcement was meant to coincide with a recent ratings downturn being experienced by The NFL, explaining that “what has happened there is their business, and I’m not going to knock those guys, but I am going to learn from their mistakes as anyone would if they were tasked with reimagining a new football league.” On June 5th, 2018, it was announced that Oliver Luck was named the league’s commissioner and chief executive officer. Luck will leave his previous positions with The NCAA to take over the operations of The XFL.
Vince McMahon even stated that he aimed to leverage digital streaming as part of broadcasting arrangements for the new XFL. McMahon also said that he felt that fans did not necessarily want digital streams to be a straight simulcast of a television broadcast, and wanted more “totally different ways” to watch football. The XFL will not consider viewership to be a metric of its success for the new season, said Vince McMahon. McMahon then argued that “to me the landscape has changed in so many different ways. Just look at technology and companies like Facebook and Amazon bidding for sports rights. Even if ratings go down, there is no denying that live sports rights continue to be valuable and continue to deliver.”
Ever since Vince McMahon announced that the XFL will be relaunched in 2020, the fans and the media has been excited on what the future brings for the league when it relaunches. Several changes has already been made and announced for the XFL when it returns in 2020. Those changes include: Faster games, political and social activism being discouraged, people with criminals records not being allowed to play, not having any connection or crossover whatsoever with WWE and teams being different from the first league. Speaking of teams, a host city for one of the teams has been announced for the new XFL.
According to The Orlando Sentinel, WWE Senior Vice President John Saboor has reached out to Allen Johnson, the director of Orlando venues, regarding the possibility of bringing an XFL team to Orlando, Florida. WWE Chairman Vince McMahon has also always been interested in having The City of Orlando host an XFL team.
“We were told that there is preliminary, high-level interest in Orlando and they would get back to us at a later date,” Johnson told the Sentinel. “They did mention in the call that they were aware of the other league (the Alliance) and felt that the Orlando market could support two teams.”
Johnson also noted that the city has often received phone calls about pro football teams possibly coming to Orlando over the years but they are excited about the reincarnation of Vince McMahon’s XFL because usually the discussions don’t get past the early conversations. Orlando officials also knows that Vince McMahon has the cash flow to make a league happen, plus they recognize the success he has had with various events, including two major WrestleMania shows.
“We’re always excited about events that we can add to the great variety of events that we already have at Camping World Stadium,” Johnson said about Vince possibly bringing a team to the home of WrestleMania 24 and WrestleMania 33. “The XFL would be a welcome addition.”
As early as now, the possibility of the city of Orlando being host to one of the teams of the new XFL is already causing some drama and controversy as a new football league called The Alliance of American Football (AAF) announced that they will be putting one of their new teams in the University of Central Florida’s Spectrum Stadium. The AAF (Alliance of American Football) is a professional American football league that was founded and created on March 20, 2018 by Charlie Ebersol, son of NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol. The league is scheduled to begin play and operations on February 2019, one week following the NFL’s Super Bowl Championship Game. The AAF will be overseen by former NFL General Manager Bill Polian, former Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu and Executive J.K. McKay. Advisers of the league will include Hines Ward, Justin Tuck and Dick Ebersol himself. Legendary coach Steve Spurrier of the Florida Gators will be coaching the AAF Orlando team. To get an idea of how the drama has already been elevated in the headlines, the Sentinel asked if we might see “Vince McMahon vs. Steve Spurrier in a Loser-Leave-Town match for Orlando’s Heavyweight Championship of Professional Football” soon.
Putting up and successfully running the new XFL will be an expensive venture to pursue which is why Vince McMahon sold $100 million worth of WWE stock in December 2017 to fund the league. This might have been a good start but ESPN reports that Vince McMahon informed insiders that he actually expects to spend close to a $500 million price tag in the first three years on the revamped football league. Oliver Luck, who was announced as The XFL’s CEO, has officially moved into his office across from WWE’s Titan Towers. Luck said that the league still hasn’t officially picked any cities to play in but they are already selling merchandise from the XFL online store. Luck also said that this kind of early exposure could help immensely and determine interest, but there is still a lot of work to be done and money to be spent.
“People were focused on the $100 million, but the truth is that doesn’t even get us to the 20-yard line,” Oliver Luck said while making a football analogy to compare the funds required to restart the XFL.
Oliver Luck also revealed that the player salaries would average around $75,000. Luck also said that players who are in more demand stand to make more than the average, but players’ and coaches’ salaries stand to be the biggest cost for the league. The $75,000 average is well above the last incarnation of the XFL where players normally made around $45,000, but it’s still far from NFL paydays.
Another huge expense for the new XFL will be the insurance needed in order to operate. They must protect the league’s assets and a proper insurance plan is vital to any plan of this scope and content especially with this kind of injury risk.
“I’ve been at all levels of football, and the importance of a broad-based insurance program cannot be understated,” Luck continued as he discussed another huge cost for the XFL. “There are very few participants who underwrite for this market anymore and it is obviously costly.”
Now that we know that The XFL will be coming back and it will be relaunched in 2020, it will be interesting to see what approach Vince McMahon will take and what improvements he will make to successfully run the XFL this time around. The XFL needs to be successful this time around as there is a lot of ground to cover and a lot of expenses to be made. The first incarnation of the league left behind a legacy of missteps, questionable decisions and failures, but added new innovations to the game that the NFL uses to this day. What new innovations or legacies will the new XFL contribute to the world of professional football? There is only one way to find out and that is to tune in to The XFL when it relaunches in early 2020.