WWE supremo Vince McMahon has announced the return of his own football league – the XFL – for 2020.
McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, made the announcement at a press conference in the United States on Monday night.
It did not come as a huge shock – rumours had been building for several months that the entity, which flopped at its first attempt the better part of 18 years ago, would be making a comeback.
But McMahon is thought to have pumped millions of his own personal fortune to give the venture another go and, clearly, the timing is no coincidence politically – there are a number of reasons why this has implications reaching far wider than the football field.
What is the XFL?
The XFL is, in short, McMahon’s alternative to the NFL. He feels the nation’s favourite game needs a kick up the backside and that he’s the man to do it. Never one to shirk standing out from the crowd – McMahon has always been bold enough to put his money where his mouth his. His football league aims to be up and running in time for 2020 with an eight-team league playing out a 10-week regular season followed by play-offs and a championship.
Who else is involved?
That’s a big question and one that led to some criticism in quarters of last night’s announcement – in that it was a reveal that, well, didn’t reveal very much. Fielding questions from journalists, McMahon would often repeat that certain aspects had yet to be finalised or that discussions were continuing. The likely location of any of the eight teams, any potential broadcast partner were just some of the details missing so far. One thing is for sure – WWE won’t be involved. McMahon confirmed there would be no talent crossover and that he would continue in his role as the company’s chairman.
How is the XFL different to NFL?
If McMahon has his way it will be as different to the NFL as possible. Last time around, for instance, the coin toss before every game was replaced by a scramble for control and, rather than a tie come the conclusion of a match, a game would go to overtime. His ‘day job’ sitting at the top of one of the world’s largest entertainment companies means he’s very comfortable with novelty, crazy and wacky – and you can expect plenty of that in two years’ time, whether that’s in-game extra-curriculars, a greater emphasis on the involvement of technology or anything else he can dream up. After all, he’s claimed this is a way of giving football “back” to the American people.
What happened to the XFL last time?
As revolutionary as McMahon has proved to be during an unrivalled career as a wrestling promoter, this is – potentially at least – a rehash of a very bad idea. The XFL in its first incarnation – launched in 2001 – was owned in a 50 per cent split by WWE and NBC. It, too, featured an eight-team league but, despite high ratings at its very start, it’s novelty swiftly wore thin and, with TV executives quick to plug as numbers declined, the league ceased after just one season – at a loss of $35 million – with the Los Angeles Xtreme claiming the championship. It was rated as ESPN’S second-greatest sports flop of all time.
How is President Donald Trump involved?
This is where the timing really becomes interesting. Trump’s feelings towards the NFL are no secret – not least thanks to the dispute over the national anthem scandal of late 2017. Trump and McMahon have worked closely on WWE projects in the past – Trump once featured as part of a match involving McMahon at Wrestlemania – and Vince’s wife, Linda, is part of the Trump administration, as Administrator of the Small Business. The fact that McMahon, too, feels so strongly in his disenchantment with the NFL will strike a chord with those who side with Trump’s views on the matter and it may just be that this particular groundswell of opinion – though some feel it to be against the national feeling in the US – is enough for the project to take off and flourish second time around. McMahon ironically said at last night’s conference: “People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” referring specifically to the fact that players will stand for the national anthem in the new XFL and not be able to ‘take a knee’. Political issues may, he says, not come into play, but an endorsement from Trump closer to launch time is a very distinct possibility.
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