In a move that many expected, the XFL has decided to suspend its operations and has no plans to return next year. However, the circumstances that caused the closure were nothing anyone could’ve expected. After the corona virus pandemic caused the league to cancel the remainder of its season after just five games, officials suggested the upstart group would return in 2021, but along with the news of suspended operations was the decision to lay off nearly the entire staff so it appears that the project is finished.
But, did the XFL really have a chance?
In truth, the short answer is no, simply based on the fact that numerous spring leagues have tried for the past few decades to extend America’s demand for football beyond the Super Bowl in the warmer months of the year, but literally every attempt to take a piece of the pie from the NFL has flopped. There’s an alphabet soup of organizations, both big and small, that thought they could carve a niche among diehard football fans that wanted more on the field content after the Lombardi trophy was decided. However, the NFL isn’t simply a brand of football in the United States, it is the brand of football so it’s doubtful that the XFL or any upstart group in the future could sustain itself on a long term basis to even be a complimentary league to the NFL, especially because of the billions of dollars involved in the sport.
That being said, Vince McMahon gave the XFL the best possible chance to be successful, even if those were slim odds. While the original league was launched because it could ride the coat tails of the popularity of the Attitude Era, the restart of the football project was at least given the time and resources to have a chance to develop into a legitimate sports league. Vince set up Alpha Entertainment as a separate entity from his sports entertainment empire and sold over $300 million in stock to fund the relaunch of the XFL. He initially made the announcement in 2018, which gave the organization two years to make all the arrangements and staff the teams before the opening kickoff.
As we saw with the Alliance of American Football, the Charlie Ebersol group that started a year a ahead of the XFL, it was only a matter of two weeks before the AAF ran into financial hurdles and abruptly shut down just a few weeks later. Clearly, Ebersol rushed the project and didn’t secure the proper funding, which will doom any business venture. Reportedly, Vince’s $300 million was set to keep the league afloat for at least three seasons. The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer speculated that Vince’s plan was to establish XFL ratings to be able to garner rights fees from the networks after it was a proven product, which makes sense because that’s how McMahon signed record-setting TV deals for Raw and Smackdown last year.
With the time and the funding to give the league a legitimate chance, McMahon hired Oliver Luck, who has an extensive track record for his work in football, as the commissioner. As much as his vast knowledge for the game, Oliver Luck brought a level of credibility to the XFL to avoid the gimmicks of the 2001 version of McMahon football. The amount of preparation that teams and staffer put into the concept was apparent because when the relaunch season started in February, there actually was better football than compared to the games in 2001. It wasn’t the skill level usually seen in the NFL, but the new organization actually resembled a legitimate league.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think the XFL would’ve garnered enough interest, ratings, or attendance to sustain itself beyond the three years that Vince earmarked the money for it, but ultimately none of those reasons were why the league shut down just over a month after its kickoff weekend. The corona virus that caused a shut down of every major sports league in the United States is what hindered the XFL’s chance to get off the ground. While ratings had declined from the opening weekend, the numbers were considered decent so who knows what an average number might’ve been for the season? At the same time, nothing from the partial season indicated there would’ve been guaranteed success either because some of the games had a lot of empty seats in the stadium.
Assuming the goal was to show a pattern of consistent ratings and ad revenue to be able to sell the games to different networks for an eventual broadcast rights fee contract, the 2020 version of the XFL didn’t get a chance to establish any of that because five weeks isn’t enough of a sample size to determine if the league could draw ratings over the course of the season. Is it theoretically possible the XFL could make a comeback after the shut down? Sure, but it wouldn’t be a logical or realistic option for a variety of reasons. An XFL return next year wouldn’t have the anticipation of, “what will the XFL be this time?” because the fans have already seen it so most of the novelty would wear off for another relaunch. More importantly, any momentum that the league built in the five weeks it existed or would’ve built as it progressed toward the championship game has completely stalled because the brand would be off the sports radar for nearly a year before the new season in 2021.
To bring the XFL back next year, it would be basically starting from scratch again without any of the novelty or the intrigue of what the league would be after a nearly two decade hiatus. The attempt to reestablish the brand, especially when some of the players have already signed with NFL teams would be difficult. The biggest hurdle to another XFL season is the same hurdle for any business venture, it would cost the league more money to advertise and promote it again. While there was some potential for markets like St. Louis and Washington DC, it’s doubtful that the XFL has a whole would’ve drawn major attendance across the board, and those empty seats in the stadium don’t do any favors for ad revenue or a possible TV deal. Vince deserves credit for putting together a legitimate football league, but all things considered, the early shutdown will probably a few hundred million dollars for the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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