XFL (2020)

The XFL is a professional American footballleague. Consisting of eight teams divided equally between an East and West division, seasons run from February to April, with each team playing a ten-game regular season, and four progressing to the playoffs to crown a season champion.[lower-alpha 1] The company is headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Professional American football league
This article is about the second edition of the XFL. For the original XFL, see XFL (2001).

XFL
Current season, competition or edition:
2020 XFL season
Sport American football
Founded January 25, 2018
Founder Vince McMahon
Inaugural season 2020
Owner(s) Alpha Acquico, LLC[1]

President Russ Brandon
No. of teams 8
Country United States
Headquarters Greenwich, Connecticut
TV partner(s)
Related
competitions
XFL (2001)
Official website XFL.com

The league was founded by wrestling executive Vince McMahon in 2018, as a reboot and successor to the league of the same name he founded in 2001. McMahon re-founded the XFL to create a league with fewer off-field controversies and faster, simpler play compared to the National Football League (NFL), as well as one without the professional wrestling–inspired features and entertainment elements of its predecessor. The league and its teams were originally owned by McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment. The teams are spread across the United States in markets currently or recently represented by an NFL franchise.[2]

After only five weeks of play in its inaugural 2020 season, the league’s operations slowly came to a close due to the COVID-19 pandemic,[3] and filed for bankruptcy on April 13.[4] On August 2, 2020, actor, producer, former professional wrestler, and former Miami (Florida) defensive lineman Dwayne Johnson and longtime business partner Dany Garcia led a consortium with Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital to purchase the XFL for $15 million, hours before an auction could take place.[5][6] The league currently plans to return in spring 2023.[7]

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Main article: XFL (2001)
Vince McMahon, the founder of Alpha Entertainment, LLC

The original XFL ran for a single season in 2001, as a joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and NBC spearheaded by Vince McMahon and NBC executive Dick Ebersol. The league attempted to be a competitor to the National Football League—the predominant professional league of American football in the United States (and where NBC had lost its broadcast rights to CBS three years earlier), running during the late winter and early spring to take advantage of lingering desire for football after the end of the NFL season. It featured various modifications to the rules of football in order to increase its intensity, as well as on-air innovations such as Skycams, placing microphones on players, and in-game interviews with players. The league was criticized for relying too heavily on “sports entertainmentgimmicks similar to professional wrestling. Despite strong ratings for its first games, viewership eventually nosedived, and the league folded after the conclusion of the inaugural season.[8][9][10][11][12] Both partners lost $35 million on the XFL,[13] and McMahon eventually conceded that the league was a “colossal failure”.[14][15]

In the 2017 ESPN30 for 30 documentary This Was the XFL, McMahon openly mused about reviving the XFL, noting that changes would need to be made compared to 2001 to make it viable and relevant in the modern era.[16] McMahon had purchased the trademarks of the defunct United Football League and an alternative brand, “UrFL” (Your Football League), in early 2017.[17] The following year, the director of the documentary, Charlie Ebersol (son of Dick Ebersol), would go on to help form the Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2018, hoping to beat the revived XFL in being the first to play (they did by a year).[18] While the league was able to launch in 2019, a year before the XFL’s first season, it went bankrupt before its first season finished after it twice lost its major investors.[19] On December 15, 2017, Bleacher Report columnist Brad Shepard reported that McMahon was seriously considering a revival of the XFL, with an expected announcement on January 25, 2018. In a statement to Deadspin, WWE did not confirm or deny the rumors, but did state that McMahon was establishing a new company known as Alpha Entertainment, which would “explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football.”[9] On December 21, 2017, WWE issued a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, stating that McMahon had sold $100 million worth of WWE stock to fund Alpha Entertainment.[20] Alpha Entertainment is headquartered next door to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.[21]

On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL, which would begin with a 10-week inaugural season beginning in January or February 2020. In a press conference, McMahon stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that “There’s only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the original XFL had.” McMahon stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league), which had been revealed in 2019. Alpha Entertainment was established to keep the league’s management and operations separate from that of WWE.[15][22] McMahon is prepared to invest as much as $500 million, five times as much as his investment in the 2001 XFL.[23] He liquidated an additional $270 million in WWE stock (representing a 4% stake in WWE) in March 2019 to provide additional funding for the league.[24]

Oliver Luck, the commissioner of the XFL

The XFL discourages political gestures by players during games such as, for example, taking a knee in protest. McMahon also planned to forbid any player with a criminal record from participating. Commissioner Oliver Luck later walked back the latter decision, noting that the policy had not yet been finalized,[21] and stated in April 2019 that it would allow its teams to sign Johnny Manziel, who was convicted of domestic violence in 2016.[25] Manziel nonetheless was excluded from the inaugural draft and player allocations, with the league later stating that it had “no interest” in him.[26]Felony convictions are still a disqualification.[27] McMahon justified his intentions by stating that the XFL would be “evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are”, and that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained”. He suggested that players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their time.[22][15] Luck stated in October 2018 that the ban on protesting during the national anthem would be written into player contracts as a condition of employment and that the stipulation was McMahon’s idea; Luck agreed that the league aimed to be as non-political as possible. Players are not barred from using cannabis, as the league will not test for the drug.[28]

McMahon did not initially reveal any specific details on rule changes that the new XFL would feature but did state that he aimed to reduce the length of games to around two hours (in contrast to the standard in American football, which generally runs slightly over three hours). The league later revised this to a two-and-a-half-hour target length.[29] Later, when announcing new changes to overtime rules, it was implied that television broadcasts would have three-hour time slots, into which the entire game and overtime would fit.[30] Test games resulted in an average game time of 2 hours and 40 minutes with a comparable number of plays to an NFL game.[31] Halfway through the first season, the average length of a regular-season game clocked in at 2 hours, 50 minutes,[32] the same as the Canadian Football League.[33] He also noted that by announcing it two years in advance (unlike the original XFL, which was only announced one year in advance), there would also be more time to prepare the league to deliver a more desirable product.[34][22]

McMahon denied that the timing of the announcement was meant to coincide with a recent ratings downturn being experienced by the NFL, explaining, “What has happened there is their business, and I’m not going to knock those guys, but I am going to learn from their mistakes as anyone would if they were tasked with reimagining a new football league.”[22]

On June 5, 2018, Oliver Luck was named the league’s commissioner and chief executive officer. Luck left his previous positions with the NCAA to take over the operations of the XFL.[35]Doug Whaley, most recently general manager of the Buffalo Bills, was hired as the league’s senior vice president of football operations on November 8, 2018.[36] On January 22, 2019, Jeffrey Pollack was named the president and chief operating officer, coming from his previous role as the chief marketing and strategy officer and special adviser for the Los Angeles Chargers.[37]

McMahon stated that he wanted to play in existing NFL markets but did not identify potential cities specifically and did not rule out any specific cities. McMahon also did not rule out playing on artificial turf. The original XFL avoided artificial playing surfaces (as most such surfaces then were more carpet-like); however, the technology has advanced considerably since 2001, with modern artificial turfs mimicking real grass more closely. John Shumway from KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh and local media from Orlando and San Diego both inquired about potential teams in their respective cities, but McMahon (while stating that “I love Pittsburgh”) declined to name any cities for teams. McMahon also stated that teams would have new identities compared to recycling old identities from the old league.[38] The league sent solicitations to thirty metropolitan areas as potential locations for a team.[39]

Commissioner Luck announced the eight host cities and stadiums for the first franchises on December 5, 2018, and also announced the starting date of February 8, 2020, the weekend after Super Bowl LIV,[40] the date on which its first two games were later played.[41] Its first head coach and general manager, Dallas‘s Bob Stoops, was announced February 7, 2019,[42] with the coaches for Seattle (Jim Zorn), Washington (Pep Hamilton), and Tampa Bay (Marc Trestman) following later in the month. The last of the inaugural head coaches, Houston’s June Jones, was hired May 13 and introduced May 20.[43] The emergence of the Alliance of American Football created issues selecting cities to host XFL teams, as many potential candidates became home to AAF teams (notably Orlando, the next largest city without an NFL team and an acceptable stadium. Orlando was also one of the original XFL’s most successful markets and second in attendance for the 2019 AAF season). Not wanting teams to compete against other spring football teams in the same market, the XFL chose different cities than the AAF.

The league chose to focus on placing teams in large media markets, selecting five of the top seven largest media markets in the U.S.; based on 2017 census bureau estimates, all eight XFL markets have over 2.9 million residents each (the smallest being St. Louis).[44] This was seen as a stark contrast to the other emerging spring football league, the Alliance of American Football, which primarily chose markets without NFL teams, seen as a decision to avoid competing with existing fan bases; three of the AAF’s markets (Birmingham, Memphis, and Salt Lake, the first two of which had teams in the first XFL) had populations less than half that of St. Louis’s.[45] The only XFL market which does not currently host an NFL team is St. Louis, which in 2015 saw its NFL team (the Rams) return to Los Angeles.[46]

In May 2019, the XFL placed a bid on some of the AAF’s former assets as part of that league’s bankruptcy proceedings.[47] The league was outbid by former Arena Football League executive Jerry Kurz.[48] Several months earlier in December 2018, Charlie Ebersol asked Vince McMahon about merging the AAF (which had then yet to start its ultimately-aborted sole season) with the XFL. McMahon turned him down.[49]

The league signed its first player, quarterback Landry Jones, on August 15, 2019. The XFL revealed team names and logos on August 21, 2019.[50] Players were assigned to each team in the 2020 XFL Draft from October 15 to 16, with schedules released October 22 and ticket sales opening to the general public October 24. Uniforms were revealed December 3.[51] The XFL did not hold a preseason.[52]

In the week leading up to the kickoff, the XFL secured sponsorships from Gatorade and Anheuser-Busch.[53] The Anheuser-Busch sponsorship is used to promote Bud Light Seltzer; the “seltzer chug” became a postgame locker room tradition in part because of the product placement deal.[54] After averaging 3.1 million viewers in its first week,[55] average ratings for the XFL would drop to 1.5 million viewers during its fifth and final week.[56]

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