After months of speculation, the crazy old millionaire actually did it. Vince McMahon announced in late January 2018 that he will be rebooting the once-doomed professional football league known as the XFL. Sports fans old enough to remember will recall the hastily slapped together league played a single season in 2001, before collapsing miserably and costing McMahon and NBC millions of dollars.
Apparently McMahon has learned from his mistakes and wants to give it another go. With the turmoil and controversy surrounding the NFL recently, it might actually be the perfect time to strike. But can McMahon finally succeed where others (including himself) have already failed so badly? Despite turning the WWE into a pro wrestling superpower, McMahon doesn’t exactly have a long list of additional business successes — anyone remember the World Bodybuilding Federation? We didn’t think so.
Here’s everything we know about the new XFL (so far), and we’ll continue to update this article as new details emerge.
Alpha is Not Affiliated With The WWE
First things first. Unlike the old XFL, which was a joint project with the then-WWF, the new league will be owned by Alpha Entertainment. It’s a completely separate company from the wrestling business, although we believe it is 100 percent owned by McMahon himself (as in, there are no business partners — yet). This is an important difference, and could allow the new XFL to succeed where the original one failed.
The original league debuted smack dab in the middle of wrestling’s “Attitude Era,” and the XFL reflected that. The promotional spots focused on violence and sex — harder hitting, fewer rules, and scantily clad cheerleaders. They had Jim Ross and Jesse “The Body” Ventura commentate games. The Rock stood at center field and spouted off catchphrases before the opening game. To the casual sports fan, who may have actually been interested in an NFL alternative, the original XFL was just the WWF with some gridiron lines. The new XFL will keep all wrestling personalities separate, which is probably a smart decision.
It’s Entirely Self Funded
Since Alpha Entertainment is not associated with the WWE in any way, the question that immediately springs to mind is: who’s paying for the new XFL? The answer, quite simply, is that Vince McMahon is footing the entire bill. He’s still an extremely rich man, given his position of majority owner, chairman, and CEO of the WWE. To go along with the millions in spare change likely floating around under his couch cushions, Vinny Mac actually liquidated some of most precious assets to get the required funding for the new XFL.
In late 2017, McMahon sold off a small chunk of his WWE stock (to the tune of almost $100 million) and collected it as personal income. He then took that money and used it to seed Alpha Entertainment. That’s all we know so far. McMahon will likely try to recoup some of that money with sponsorship deals or streaming rights (more on that later), or even franchise fees. But for now, this entire project is being propped up by McMahon’s considerably fat wallet.
Unlike the previous XFL, which was rushed together in roughly a year (and it sure showed), the new XFL is taking a more measured approach. The current plan is for games to begin around (or just after) the Super Bowl in 2020. That gives McMahon two full years to get his plans in place. And there’s definitely plenty of work to be done. Other than the initial announcement that the league would be returning, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered.
McMahon has the money and the power to get things together, but we already knew that from the original XFL. The real question is whether two years will be enough time to put the proper plan in place, at the risk of the whole thing failing a second time around. The flip side is that two years is a long time in sports fan’s increasingly short memories. Will people still care in 2020?
Did The 30 For 30 Kick Start Interest?
Is it merely a coincidence that McMahon announced the reformation of the XFL just months after ESPN aired their brilliant documentary 30 for 30: This Was The XFL? We doubt it. The documentary was made with the full cooperation of McMahon and NBC executives, and highlighted both the successes and ultimate failures of the original league. For anyone interested in the business side of sports, it was a fascinating behind the scenes look at how to literally start a professional sports league from nothing.
It was the documentary that originally started the rumors, as McMahon officially renewed the XFL trademarks ahead of the airing of the ESPN show. At first, he suggested it was just precursory paperwork — a renewal so that the trademarks wouldn’t expire and become public domain. However, the end of the 30 for 30 was especially interesting, as McMahon plainly stated that he’d love to try the XFL again. Well, here he goes.
The original XFL modified their rules, but not for the sake of game length. They eliminated the fair catch to encourage “smash mouth” football and bone crushing hits. They only needed receivers to have one foot in bounds, hoping to make the game more exciting. They even eliminated the coin toss, having opposing players do a short sprint and scramble for the football to determine opening possession (which immediately led to an injury, because of course it did).
During his press conference announcement of the rebooted XFL, McMahon again alluded to rule changes. He suggested they won’t break for halftime and will play with “simplified” rules in order to create “few infractions.” What do those things mean? We haven’t got a clue. But McMahon said he wants games to come in around the two-hour mark, which would be a lot shorter than the average NFL game, which sit at 3+ hours. Maybe the new XFL can finally figure out how to define a catch, since the NFL can’t get a grasp on that particular part of the game.
How Many Teams?
Although it sounds like there will be plenty of differences in the new XFL, one things will stay exactly the same. The league will launch with eight teams, the same number as the original league. However, McMahon had no announcements about where those teams will be. Original XFL cities included Orlando, Chicago, New Jersey, Brimingham, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Memphis, and Las Vegas. McMahon did announce that the rebooted league would not be resurrecting any of those old franchise names, but didn’t rule out a return to some of those cities.
Wherever the teams end up, and regardless of how much money you have, you won’t be able to own one. Exactly like the original XFL, the new league will operate as a single entity. That means that all eight teams will be owned and operated by the league itself, so there won’t be any team owners in the picture (although it’s possible that each team will be given a president to handle day-to-day things). This is obviously different from the standard sports model in North America, where every team has an individual owner. Even Major League Soccer, which is technically also a single-entity league, grants complete independent control to the owners of their franchises. The XFL won’t even be doing that.
What About The Players?
Where will the players come from? That’s a damn good question, and no one really has an answer. McMahon stated in his opening press conference that the teams would have 40-man rosters (compared to a 53-man NFL roster). If our math is correct, that 320 new professional football jobs up for grabs in the next couple years. It will be interesting to see what kind of talent they can attract, especially since they won’t be able to compete with the NFL in terms of salary or prestige.
The bulk of the players will likely be former college football players who couldn’t quite crack the NFL, or guys languishing away in the CFL or Arena Football who are hoping the grass is greener in the XFL. Although nothing is confirmed, some interesting names already popped up on social media as fans speculated about who could be involved. Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, and Colin Kaepernick were among the mentions.
Forced Standing for the National Anthem?
Speaking of Kaepernick, there might be a significant hurdle to him joining the new league. Although he didn’t specifically say it would be a rule, McMahon was highly suggestive that the new XFL will have some sort of rule in place to ban political protests or statements of any kind, especially when it comes to the National Anthem.
Here’s a quote from McMahon when he was asked:
“The national anthem is a time-honored tradition that’s played to this day—and many, many years in the past—prior to most athletic events in our country and other countries,” McMahon told reporters on a conference call following the announcement. “So whatever our rules are is what everyone will abide by. There’s plenty of opportunity and plenty of ways in which players, coaches, members of the media can express themselves… but when we come onto the field, we’re here to play football. That’s everyone’s job.”
McMahon and Donald Trump have a long history together, with the current U.S. President appearing multiple times on WWE programming over the years. Trump famously attacked NFL players in 2017 who refused to stand for the anthem as part of a mass protest against racial inequality and police brutality. McMahon stated that he hadn’t consulted with Trump ahead of announcing the new XFL, but it sounds pretty obvious that standing the the anthem will be required if you want a job.
No Criminal Records
The previous XFL sold itself on violence and sex appeal, much like the wrestling world was doing at the same time. These days, the WWE considers themselves “family friendly” or PG-13 — which really just means that they won’t scare away advertisers with their programming content. Gone are the days of the beer swilling, middle finger flipping, swearing, or the gratuitous T&A segments. McMahon promised the new XFL will also be family friendly, specifically stating that they won’t hire players with criminal records — perhaps a shot at the NFL’s reputation as the National Felons League?
Oddly enough, McMahon specifically singled out DUI infractions as something the XFL won’t tolerate. Which is sort of ironic, since multiple members of the WWE have similar (or worse) criminal records and remain active employees of a McMahon owned company. Regardless, Vince wants the new XFL to be squeaky clean so it can attract viewers and advertising dollars. Basically, Ray Rice won’t be finding a job here.
He Hate Me Version 2.0?
All the business side of the new XFL is fascinating, sure. But let’s start asking the real questions. Will players be allowed to put nicknames on the back of their jerseys, like Rod “He Hate Me” Smart did back in 2001, becoming the XFL’s first real star player. It’s a tactic that other leagues have borrowed from, as both the NBA and MLB have used special weekends where fans can see “The Process” or “Bringer of Rain” on the backs of player jerseys instead of “Embiid” or “Donaldson.” Both fans and players seem to love getting to show off an extra piece of their personalities.
McMahon was asked directly whether the new XFL would keep the old jersey rules in place, but he ducked the question entirely. He did say “that was extraordinary” when referring to Smart’s self-marketing gimmick. If I was a betting man (and I am), I think McMahon will allow nicknames on jerseys again — within reason, of course. He knows that football is still just entertainment, and he’s a master of the “entertainment” side of “sports entertainment.” It was the “sports” side of things that killed the original XFL, not the He Hate Me jerseys in the crowd.
Where Can You See It?
After the last debacle cost NBC millions and millions of dollars, you can imagine that television networks are not lining up to partner with McMahon on another startup pro football league. McMahon was forced to admit that he doesn’t have a television deal for the new XFL, and it’s not exactly a sure thing that he will get one before games are scheduled to start in early 2020.
However, McMahon might try to embrace technology with his new league. He specifically mentioned that companies like Facebook and Amazon are bidding on the streaming rights of major professional sports leagues, and even the WWE itself has found huge success with the WWE Network, their own streaming service that features every pay-per-view event, original series, and scores of archived wrestling footage. It sounds more likely that you’ll be able to watch the XFL on YouTube or Twitter than on Fox or ESPN.