This Is The XFL, Version 2.0: McMahon Unveils Plans To Re-Launch Football League
Vince McMahon officially will unveil plans today to personally fund a re-launched XFL football league that will kick off two years from now, in early '20. This marks the WWE Chair & CEO’s second attempt at creating a pro football league, but this version will look dramatically different from the one that launched in ’01 and lasted for just one season -- especially in the way McMahon markets it. Rather than relying on WWE-style marketing that emphasized sex and violence, McMahon suggested that this new version will be more wholesome and family friendly. So much so, in fact, that the new XFL will have no cheerleaders. It will not hire players who have arrest records, McMahon said. And it will make sure that all of its players stand for the national anthem, a policy that stands in stark contrast to the NFL. The more family friendly XFL even comes through in the league’s new red-white-and-blue logo, as opposed to ‘01’s in-your-face black-and-red one. “We want to entertain -- that’s what we do,” McMahon told THE DAILY. “There are not going to be any politics involved with this thing. We’re not going to have any social issues involved. People want to be entertained. ... It’s the entertainment value that sometimes is lost.” In fact, the idea that players will be able to express their individuality also is an open question. The XFL’s most famous player is Rod Smart, a player known for years only by his nickname “He Hate Me.” McMahon said even that legacy from the ’01 XFL is up for debate. “It depends on what the audience wants and how important we think that is,” he said. “All options are open.”
FUNDING PLANS IN PLACE: McMahon will fund the league through Alpha Entertainment, a private equity company he set up to fund sports and entertainment opportunities. He said he will start with $100M in funding. “But it will probably go beyond that,” he said. “I’m extremely fortunate to know that I have the ability to be able to do this. I won’t say whatever it takes, because I’m a business man. But there will be plenty of capital to be able to capitalize and do what we want to do by re-imagining football.” McMahon said he is not looking for other investors, “at least not now.” The XFL will be a single-entity league, which means that McMahon will own and control each of the individual teams. The league will have a separate management team from WWE. McMahon will continue in his WWE roles, and its management will serve as consultants to the XFL. Given all the changes, McMahon considered launching the league under a different name, but ultimately decided that the XFL’s brand equity was still strong and enough time had passed since its ’01 season.
OTHER DETAILS ARE SCARCE: The XFL will play a winter season following the Super Bowl in eight markets that still are to be determined. Teams will consist of 40-player rosters and will compete in a 10-week regular season. Postseason will consist of two semifinal games and one championship game. McMahon was short on specifics about a number of factors: where teams will be located, where games will be distributed, how games will be presented and what rules would be different from the NFL. Several times during a 20-minute interview, he referenced upcoming listening tours where he will ask fans, football experts and media figures to come up with the best way to stage football games. “It’s an opportunity to really re-imagine football -- not reinvent it,” he said. “I have an expression that I use a lot. It’s called, ‘First day on the job.’ If you started from square one, what would you do positively, what would you do negatively, in terms of re-imagining the game to make it more exciting, to make it more fan friendly.” McMahon said that will translate to faster games in the new XFL, ones that could fit into two-hour windows with fewer commercial breaks. It also means a more simplified rule book that does not have, for example, arcane rules about what constitutes a catch. “Sitting in front of a television for three-and-a-half hours for a game is a lot of time to devote,” McMahon said. “A lot of people do it. We want a faster game. We want a more exciting game. We want rules that are simplified. In the end, we want it to be more fan friendly with more engagement.”
ALLOWING FOR MORE PREP TIME: The two-year run-up to launch the league also marks a change from the first version, when McMahon launched the league just one year after his initial announcement. “We didn’t give ourselves enough time to put together [teams that could] actually play good football,” he said. “This is 2020. We’ve got time to draft good players and be able to put really good football on the field. That’s the biggest thing that’s going to be a difference.” McMahon said the XFL will not compete with the NFL for players, but will target ones who just miss catching on with an NFL team. “The difference between making it in the NFL and not is slight,” McMahon said. “You can’t measure heart and things of that nature. You’re going to have some great athletes.” Some of the original XFL’s biggest successes came from the way it produced games on television, specifically its use of Skycam and on-field cameras -- innovations that became staples of NFL TV productions in the years after the XFL folded. McMahon mentioned putting microphones on more players and coaches, but added that he is still a long way from making those decisions about how to present the games on TV and online. “This is way too soon for me to get into the weeds because we’re going to ask [people] if they were imagining football, what would they do,” he said.
A DESIRE THAT NEVER LEFT: McMahon said he has been thinking about relaunching the XFL since ‘01, when he reluctantly shut down the league’s first version. He spoke of that desire in a scene at the end of ESPN’s '17 “30 for 30” documentary on the XFL, when McMahon met former NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol at a Connecticut restaurant 15 years after the league shut down. After a few pleasantries, Ebersol asked McMahon, “Do you ever have any thoughts about trying again?” “Yes, I do,” McMahon answered. “I don’t know what it would be. I don’t know if it’s going to be another XFL or what it may be or how different I would make it. ... I don’t know what else we would do that the NFL isn’t doing now. But I’m sure we would find a way.”