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The Real Reason Why the XFL Might Not Fail This Time

For the second time in his life, Vince McMahon is gambling that he can bring an NFL alternative to pro sports. He launched the XFL at the start of this century and it was an embarrassing failure. Now the XFL is back and the early returns indicate McMahon may have learned his lesson. Here’s the real reason why the XFL may not fail this time.

The XFL’s opening weekend

After several years of anticipation, the XFL had its opening games in early February. They played games on both Saturday and Sunday, with national TV coverage offered both days. Here were the results

Saturday, February 8, 2020

  • DC Defenders 31, Seattle Dragons 19
  • Houston Roughnecks 37, Los Angeles Wildcats 17

Sunday, February 9, 2020

  • New York Guardians 23, Tampa Bay Vipers 3  
  • St. Louis BattleHawks 15, Dallas Renegades 9  

The games showcased some of the major differences between the XFL and NFL. 

The XFL’s positive feedback so far

The XFL’s first game drew 3.3 million viewers. Compared to the 2.9 million viewers the Alliance of American Football scored for its debut, this may not seem like a big improvement over the other fledgling football league that failed. But the XFL has a great TV deal, as it will appear on Fox, CBS, and ESPN in its inaugural season. AAF was relegated to cable and internet options for viewers after the first weekend.

Feedback from the opening weekend was generally positive. Former Cowboys quarterback and current NFL analyst for Fox, Troy Aikman, said the XFL was “fantastic” so far. He also suggested there were lessons the NFL could take from the XFL. 

The league has a number of rules meant to speed up the game, like a running clock and rules that discourage touchbacks or punting the ball out of bounds. XFL player Rahim Moore compared the speed of the game to the NFL: “I love the AAF. It was a great experience … But it was a little slow. This game, it felt like an NFL game.”

Why the XFL may not fail this time

The XFL was doomed from the start in its last iteration. This time, something seems different. It’s as if McMahon realized where he went wrong before. He attempted to blend legitimate sports with the theater and pageantry of sports entertainment. The two didn’t mesh well. What he didn’t realize is that sports fans want the authentic stories borne out of a great product on the field. The extra bells and whistles the XFL added last time didn’t add much.

The league isn’t relying on cheap gimmicks anymore. They’re attempting to tinker with the sport in ways meant to improve the experience for fans. That’s a lot better than simply adding silly rules meant to sensationalize the game. 

This time, McMahon isn’t attempting to show up the NFL. He’s offering another alternative for football-starved fans in the winter and spring post-Super Bowl. McMahon also seems patient this time around. He has buy-in from multiple networks. He’s also reportedly prepared to spend $500 million in the XFL’s first three years. That’s a significant investment, even for someone like McMahon. 

With significant resources, great TV exposure, and adjusted expectations for the product, this version of the XFL seems like it may have a good chance to succeed as an extension of the NFL. It seems like McMahon and his upstart football league aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

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