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The XFL’s Keys to Sustainability

It appears that the XFL is off to a strong start, with 17k fans showing up to opening weekend and around 30k for games in Seattle & St. Louis in week two. TV viewership for the season opener peaked at 4 million viewers and averaged around 3.3 million. (NBA Regular season games in 2019 averaged 2.2 million)

While the future appears bright for the league, there are some big questions about how the XFL will find its niche in a football world that’s been dominated by the NFL for the past 50 years. Vince McMahon and Commisioner Oliver Luck have put a ton of effort into getting things off the ground, and there’s some key opportunities they can capitalize on this offseason.

Filling Out the Rosters

How will the league’s pool of talent be affected by a successful season? Players who perform well in the XFL could very well find themselves on NFL rosters come the fall as we saw with the AAF. Players are free to pursue opportunities elsewhere after the season ends, and we could see some of the league’s top names contending for NFL spots.

I think Vince McMahon seems like the kind of guy who won’t roll over and let the NFL poach his players. We could very well see an increase in salary depending on how well the season goes, but that’s all speculation at this point. A big focus this offseason will be attracting more players.

With a successful year under its belt, the XFL will have more credibility and it’ll be easier for them to attract veterans and college talent alike. After a big opening week, we’ve already seen CFL All-Stars WR SJ Green and OT Derek Dennis join up, and with another year under the league’s proverbial belt, more could jump ship and head south.

If Kenny Robinson proves that leaving West Virginia for the BattleHawks was a good decision, we could see more college players try to pump their NFL draft stock here, all while being paid. An influx of young talent trying to put their names out there could have a huge impact on XFL depth charts next year.

Its looking like NFL vets Landry Jones, Rahim Moore Sr. and Matt Jones are geared up for big seasons in the XFL, and if they can successfully mount football comebacks it’ll go a long way to bringing in more guys like them. We see a lot of vets fall through the cracks in the NFL, and this could be a great landing spot for guys who want to prove they can still ball.

While the recognizable NFL names make great headlines, some of the XFL’s most electric players have come from relative obscurity on roster fringes to light up the new league.

Who (other than Andrew Luck) thought twice about PJ Walker after a few years on the Colts practice squad? His NFL market was basically null three weeks ago, but after a couple dominant performances and a 2-0 start to the season, his future is brighter than ever. You already know that practice squad and roster bubble guys around the NFL are paying attention to what’s happening here.

The XFL can make a solid, sustainable base of talent from this blend of CFL stars, NCAA youngsters, NFL vets & roster fringe players. There’s a lot of good football players out there who just want to ball, and everybody loves underdogs and comeback stories.

Growing Markets

Ticket sales are doing very well, and by week one, the XFL had already outsold the AAF’s entire spring run in 2019. Games are averaging about 17k fans, with bigger turnouts in Seattle and St. Louis, whose fanbases are really ramping up. The TV deals with ESPN, Fox Sports and ABC are already proving invaluable to the league, and ratings are looking good.

With this early success the league will have plenty to build on, and it’s likely they’ll have to take steps to scale up in the offseason. We’re starting to see partnerships and endorsements pile up, most notably those Bud Light Seltzers, which has been happy to keep XFL Locker rooms supplied for postgame shotguns. Endorsements for the league, teams and possibly some of the league’s brightest stars would go a long way to building the brand.

Rumors of a potential XFL Video Game have been swirling for the past year, with fans clamoring for a revival of 2K’s football releases. We know that the league has been in talks with multiple developers, yet nothing is finalized, and game studios want to ensure the XFL’s long term viability first. Vince McMahon has been releasing 2K games with the WWE for years, so this would be a natural pairing. XFL 2K20 has a real nice sound to it.

At XNH, we’ve been wondering about the possibility of expansion for a while now, and fans are already clamoring for the XFL to come to their cities. Many of the AAF’s cities still want a football team, as Birmingham city leaders are invested in the idea.

Places like Denver, Canton and Philadelphia have also been floated, and are great football towns. It’s unrealistic to think there would be drastic expansion after the first year, but the league could absolutely add 2-4 teams and maintain its talent pool.

On Field Product

The game’s biggest critics are quick to decry the XFL’s quality of play, but we have 3 starting quarterbacks with 100+ ratings, 3 hovering around 80, and 5 below 70. I know that passer rating is a statistic with limitations, but it gives us a decent view of how effecient passing games are, and over half of the quarterbacks who’ve made starts have done well.

As they are, these numbers are okay. However, the average XFL pass rating is 80.1 and compared to the NFL’s 90.4 average in 2019 there’s room for growth. I think as teams mesh throughout the season the level of play is only going to improve, because these squads have only been together for the past 2-3 months with limited reps.

Guys will get more comfortable with each other as the year goes on, and a full offseason of prep before 2021 will go a long way. Sure, we’ll see some turnover and attrition to the NFL, but teams will have established cores and identities after a full season. Developing them will be a crucial aspect of each HC/GM’s job.

The quality of play will only increase as the league continues, and attracts more talent. The aforementioned additions of CFL All-Stars SJ Green and Derek Dennis will go a long way to improving the talent pool, and we even saw NFL youngster Antonio Callaway (51 Rec, 675 Yards, 5 TD’s in 2 seasons) join the league before suffering an injury.

Better play will attract better players, and that growth could be exponential should things fall into place. During the time I was writing this paragraph, Grey Cup champion WR Armanti Edwards just signed with the league, coming off a 1000 yard season with the Toronto Argonauts. See what I mean?

Outlook for 2021

Vince McMahon has committed half a billion dollars to get the XFL off the ground in its first 3 seasons. We’re still early in the process, but it looks like the league is doing well out of the gate and scaling for the future is the next step after the season. Growing the talent pool, expanding the market and refining the game should catapult the XFL to future success, and could earn it a place in the football world alongside established leagues like the NFL, CFL and NCAA.

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Matt Nagashima has been covering the XFL since before the 2019 Draft, and has witnessed history being made as a Credentialed Reporter for the Dallas Renegades. While he is engrossed with the X's and O's, the roster building and more, it has always been his goal to keep the players first in mind in coverage, showing the human aspect of this sport behind all the action on the field. With Dany Garcia and Dwayne The Rock Johnson now at the helm, he's excited to see all the opportunities that this league will create for players to showcase their talent and make their dreams come true.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jim Hailey

    March 3, 2020 at 5:07 am

    I watched the St. Louis Battlehawks on television for the first time tonight. I was excited to watch StL foorball again. I do hope the league prospers. Such a joy.

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