After an astonishing disastrous first season and subsequent demise, the XFL might make a comeback 17 years in the making.
It was a month ago the news that Vince McMahon sold $100 million dollars worth of WWE stakes to finance a separate entity, called Alpha Entertainment LLC, “which Mr. McMahon established to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football.”
Vince expressed interest in the past to bring back this beloved project of his. Last time we heard was at the end of the very well crafted ESPN documentary 30 for 30: This was the XFL, which obviously retold the rise and fall of one of the biggest bombs in professional sports history.
Three days prior the Royal Rumble PPV (which kicks off WrestleMania season in WWE), Vince McMahon held a live streaming online conference that made it official: the XFL is coming back.
I have to be honest: I’m not an American Football fan. Sure, I understand it, I watch the Superbowl and I have fun watching it more often than not, but it doesn’t have the same appeal to me than other team sports such as soccer and basketball.
However, it’s pretty clear that trying to give the Xtreme Football League a second chance is a good idea, especially in this very day and age. The NFL is constantly losing viewers, the video game doesn’t quite sell as it should, and beyond all the global presence of the brand itself is pretty insignificant compared to the NBA, or even the WWE. The Superbowl is still a landmark in American sports, no doubt, but the way the entertainment world is shifting onto a global scale, a local landmark might lose its value sooner than later.
With that in mind, I don’t think Vince McMahon will bring the league back the same way he did 17 years ago. Surely he won’t commit the same mistake, and surely he’ll try to give once again an innovative presentation (which is probably the only reason why the XFL is still remembered nowadays), but this time around he’ll have to switch things up a bit more than he did last time.
Aim to a global audience
American Football never appealed to many countries outside of the United States and, on a side note, out of Canada.
While I’ll illustrate the reason in the rest of the article, this is something that Vince McMahon should keep in mind when planning the second life of the XFL.
If you think about it, it makes sense: no matter how the NFL ratings drop, the National Football League will be the household name in the US and it will be an impossible mission to bring down the big dog. However, outside of the national boarder’s nothing is set yet.
With Vince ability to adapt its product to keep up with times (see the WWE Network), it’s safe to say that Vince will indeed aim to a global market.
One of the reasons why American Football failed to gain global appeal, it’s because is broken. As you’d see by the chart in this paragraph, on an average 3-hour presentation, the game is played for 11 minutes only.
The NFL is indeed studying a way to improve the play time in the games, but at the same time, they don’t want to lose advertisers (the real reason why American networks never picked up soccer before the demand was too high to ignore).
This time around, Vince McMahon has the chance to change the game up a bit, perhaps pushing for passing plays like this one, which surely will make the product more appealing to the global audience.
Of course, that particular play will make the game more similar to rugby but surely will help the plays to last more than a minute.
In addition, in the conference, Vince said he’s aiming to have simpler rules, faster plays, and shorter games (the goal is to have two hours long at tops), with the addition of less commercial breaks (will he add ad boards like in soccer?).
Despite missing the 2 million subscribers landmark they set when they launched the service, the WWE Network is a success.
While they lost the PPV money, they succeed to follow the global model that made Netflix what it is today.
Whereas the NFL and most American sports league heavily rely on national networks for profitability (including the WWE, given how Raw and SmackDown are aired), the new XFL could follow a totally new and uncharted path: the self-distribution model.
It’s undeniably risky: income from advertisers will be limited, and the cost to maintain servers and put up decent servers is extremely expensive. However, as Netflix and the WWE Network show, it’s an extremely effective model to distribute your own product on a global scale.
If Vince and Alpha Entertainment decided in favor of a global scale product vs local, the over-the-top self-distribution model might be a great idea.
Take the product more seriously
One of the problems of the original XFL presentation is that it was too over the top, and the general feeling was it didn’t take itself too seriously.
Besides completely dropping the cheerleader locker room segments and the panty shots, they should give the league a more professional feeling, starting from the name of the teams, as well as their logos.
Given today’s society, a name like Las Vegas Outlaws might not be the best idea.
Another thing they should try to introduce is definitely a pre-season. Not only that will make the players ready to play, but also will give them and coaches time to elaborate eventual game-style changes. (Allegedly, the absence of a pre-season was the original issue for low-quality play.)
One thing that they shouldn’t drop is the possibility to put nicknames on the shirts, of course with discretion. Despite Rod He Hate Me Smart, there were a lot of awful ones, especially for a TV presentation. One of the players called himself Teabegger. A sack from Teabegger! Doesn’t sound that nice, huh?
Luckily, it seems this won’t be a problem, but since people and ideas shift, you better specify it.
Generally speaking, I’m not surprised Vince McMahon is giving the XFL another chance.
However, this time around the WWE mogul will have to think smarter (and somewhat bigger) to have the league survive more than one season.