McMahon: XFL 'poised for success'
What was the most important objective wrestling titan Vince McMahon needed before proceeding with his second version of the XFL, scheduled to launch in less than 13 months? Ensuring good football or a TV deal? Both important, yes, but the first objective was securing liability and workers’ compensation insurance, an achievement he, and his commissioner, Oliver Luck, repeatedly touted during a recent interview with Sports Business Journal's Daniel Kaplan. They also talked about other topics, from the progress of the eight teams, when the broadcast TV deal might get announced, and a previously undisclosed meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The transcript here is edited for clarity and brevity.
VINCE McMAHON: The way to look at things as a promoter, entrepreneur … the first thing you look at is your downside. OK, if we got in business, under the right set of circumstances, what would be the downsides. … It really rests on insurance because if you don’t have your back covered then you could get in real trouble, so we wanted to make sure we had the proper insurance. … The only place I know of so far as football is concerned is … the Berkley group. So that’s where we went. … If someone doesn’t have this comprehensive coverage, you know from Berkley … then [if you end up having to tap] the last resort from workers’ comp, by the time, if you were able to get to your third season, holy macaroni, that would probably equate to more than you are paying to all your players.
How expensive is it to obtain that insurance?
McMAHON: As the expression goes, it ain’t cheap. So, what you need obviously, you need a retainer, and the retainer itself probably would keep a lot of people out of business. … From there you have to be competitive [in your business presentation to the insurer], and quite frankly football is football and naturally Berkley is looking at us in terms of NFL numbers. … It’s expensive, but you need to have that coming in. If you don’t have that covered, oh my God, again workers’ comp, they are going to eat you up.
When will you announce the broadcast deals?
McMAHON: You can’t be on a minor league cable system that is not fully distributed; that won’t work. You need to find partners that will have faith in you and your business plan. Because they have seen it, they will say, “Wow. You know what? I want to be part of that.” And we do have that. As a matter of fact, I think the exposure we are going to have on major networks and fully distributed cable systems is going to like really wow people. People are going to say, “Wow, that is tremendous.”
We are going to really surprise so many people when we make this announcement, which I don’t know, may be as late as February.
Do you have any commercial deals?
McMAHON: We have interest again. If you look at this from a major … league standpoint, that’s the way everyone else is looking at us. … We are not asking for anything yet.
How far along are the eight teams?
OLIVER LUCK: We are in the process of interviewing in all eight of the markets team presidential candidates, we are in the process of interviewing head coach candidates. … We expect within this quarter we will have identified, signed and announced key personnel in each of the eight markets.
You and Oliver have made clear the XFL is not a developmental league. What is the relationship like with the NFL?
McMAHON: It is important for us to be integrated completely and welcomed by everyone, whether it’s the NCAA, whether it’s the NFL, the sporting community in general, we want to be woven into the fabric, and be welcomed. … Roger Goodell would think the same. … That’s what he said to us and sat down with a number of individuals representing the NFL [and XFL]. He said, “Anything we can do to help you we will.” And quite frankly they have.
When did the meeting occur?
McMAHON: About two months ago?
You were there?
McMAHON: Well absolutely, sure.
What was the purpose of the meeting?
McMAHON: To make sure we explained what we wanted to do and explained our business plan. Are we welcome? Are we not? I gotta tell you, Oliver was very gracious, and very straightforward, [and] not just Oliver. … Goodell was just that, from a genuine standpoint. I am a pretty good judge of character, and he was that and everyone else in the room was as well.
Why will the XFL survive when so many other startup football leagues did not?
McMAHON: I just know that we will because again [my] financial backing, the business plan, the play … our distributors. It’s like we are really, really poised for success.