WWE chairman Vince McMahon is going to bring back the XFL, his ill-fated professional football league that lasted for only one season in 2001. In an announcement on Thursday, McMahon said the XFL would begin competition in 2020.
The announcement itself pushed a few key elements: player safety, a simpler game, and a family-friendly version of football that would be created with extensive input from fans. Competition will begin with eight teams of 40-man rosters and what McMahon called a “faster, more fan-centric game.”
An area that McMahon continued to double down on is that his league will be about “playing football.” Several questions about player expression, kneeling during the national anthem, or supporting social issues were met with McMahon saying there would be a code of conduct and his league was about football — not politics or social issues.
Rumors of McMahon’s renewed interest in professional football swirled when he sold $100 million in WWE stock to start Alpha Entertainment, the aim of which was to make investments, “including professional football.” The company also trademarked the XFL name, which added fuel to the fire.
The new league has a longer buildup than its first attempt. In 2000, when McMahon announced the first XFL, the league had only one year to prepare for competition, which is considered a factor in its downfall. This means a new XFL should be better managed and conceived, but that remains to be seen.
What was the deal with the XFL anyway?
Riding high at the peak of WWE’s “Attitude Era,” McMahon was one of the most famous faces in the world. He’d recently won his long-standing battle with WCW and bought his competition, and that momentum carried him into seeking a bigger fight — with the NFL.
The idea was a more exciting, faster-paced brand of football that didn’t have kickoffs and supported player personality. Players were encouraged to wear nicknames on their jerseys instead of regular name plates, and fans had more access to them.
Is this going to be like real football or some sort of wrestling thing?
It’s absolutely going to be real football. It’s extremely similar to the league’s launch in 2001, and back then people were equally confused as to whether this was going to be purely a football league, or if there would be elements of sports entertainment as well.
There were off-field elements and theatrics that set the XFL apart from the NFL, but the play on the field itself was absolutely not scripted or predetermined.
What went wrong?
A slew of things such as mismanaged financials, including overpaying players, a lack of interest in the league after the first few weeks, and picking a major fight with the NFL way too early. If you want to read about the full downfall of the XFL in 2001, this has you covered.
Where are teams going to be located?
McMahon said the new XFL is “far away” from announcing teams but will research and make announcements when appropriate.
In 2001, the XFL had teams in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, as you’d expect, but also branched into smaller and nontraditional markets as well. Memphis, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Birmingham, Ala. were all part of the league.
Why bring back an already-failed league when football viewership is struggling?
It’s a chance to innovate in a way the NFL can’t because the stakes are too high. If nothing else, the original XFL was extremely forward thinking and had elements like the SkyCam, which is now being used in the NFL.
The landscape of viewership has changed, too. When the XFL first launched, it required a delivery model through TV that put it in competition with the NFL. Now it can use streaming services and leverage the power of the already-created WWE Network to promote itself.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened the first time the XFL was launched?
This, without question:
Isn’t McMahon’s history with athlete safety ... problematic?
Sure it is! He was part of a steroid scandal in 1993, and another one is currently centered on Roman Reigns. Also, former WWE Superstar Chris Benoit murdered his family before killing himself in 2007 and then was discovered to have extensive brain damage from multiple untreated concussions during his career.
Then there’s this XFL moment that celebrated the violence behind quarterback Jeff Brohm getting knocked unconscious and requiring X-rays:
Where am I going to be able to watch it?
ESPN and FOX announced a multi-year deal to air the XFL starting in 2020. This means prime time games will air on ABC and FOX, with ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2 assisting with weekly regular season coverage.