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  • Writer's pictureVillanova Sports Law Blog

The XFL: Comeback Kid or Another Failure?

By Laurel Stout

On Thursday, January 25, 2018, Vince McMahon announced that he will be giving the game of football back to the fans by bringing the XFL back in 2020. For those who don’t remember, the XFL has already attempted to be a popular sports league in the United States; however, that attempt lasted as long as the 2001 season. Now, nearly 20 years later, the league is trying to make a comeback.

Overall, McMahon wants the game to be faster, family friendly, and easier to understand.[1] In order to create the league how he wants it, McMahon is supplying the initial $100 million to start the league.[2] The league will have eight teams with forty-man rosters, ten weeks of games starting in January, and a postseason consisting of two semi-final games and a championship game.[3] The XFL and NFL will play the same game with the same basic set of rules; however, McMahon has made it clear that the XFL is not a minor league for the NFL, so there are major differences between the two leagues.

First, the XFL is a single-entity sports league, meaning all teams will be owned and operated by the league.[4] Players will actually be employed by the league, whereas in the NFL players are employed by an individual team and those teams collectively make up the NFL. There are pros and cons to this type of sports league. It will be a lot easier to control messaging to the media and there will be less legal issues with what teams can and cannot do.[5] Also, if the league is a hit, McMahon can sell the whole league, teams included, as a single entity.  However, on the flip side, it will be easier for the league to be more like a WWE style league where fans are always wondering what is real and what isn’t.[6] When all the teams are owned and operated by the same people there could be less of a competitive spirit and the chances of a scripted league could increase.

Second, McMahon has banned anyone with any type of criminal record from playing in the XFL.[7] Sorry Johnny Manziel, that probably means you. But, if you are a Tim Tebow or Colin Kaepernick fan you may get to see your favorite player on the gridiron once more. This league will allow more opportunities for football players to continue their professional careers as long as they haven’t been in trouble with the law.

Lastly, McMahon has made it abundantly clear that there will be no protesting of any social issues.[8] McMahon’s reasoning is that fans don’t want to see a social or political protest when they are trying to watch football, and as the sole owner of the league, McMahon can create those kinds of rules and policies.[9]

Overall, the real question is whether the XFL will survive its second time around.  McMahon purposefully announced the comeback of the XFL two years before kickoff because he wanted more promotional time than what the original XFL had.[10] Also, with some fans not pleased with the state of the NFL, this could be a perfect time for another league to try and gain some market share. However, in the long run, will fans want to watch unknown or less skilled players play in the XFL over players like Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, and Todd Gurley? The XFL will have a huge hill to climb to come close to the NFL in terms of popularity. Climbing that hill is improbable but not necessarily impossible. For example, look at what the AFL accomplished.

For many years, the AFL was considered to be a second-tier football league compared to the NFL.  In the first two Superbowls, the NFL champions beat their AFL counterparts by at least two touchdowns. Insert, Joe Namath guaranteeing a New York Jets and AFL victory over the Baltimore Colts in Superbowl III. Namath and the Jets shocked the NFL with their win and proved that the AFL was a league that could compete. Will we see another David and Goliath story with the NFL and the XFL? Probably not, but it will be fun to watch the XFL try.

[1] Nick Swartz, 12 Things We learned from Vince McMahon about the new XFL, USA Today Sports, (Jan. 25, 2018)

[2] Darren Rovell, Vince McMahon: XFL to Return in 2020 without gimmicks, ESPN, (Jan. 26, 2018)

[3] Id.

[4] Michael McCann, Advantages and Drawbacks of the XFL Operating as a Single-Entity Sorts League, Sports Illustrated, (Jan. 26, 2018)

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Darren Rovell, Vince McMahon: XFL to Return in 2020 without gimmicks, ESPN, (Jan. 26, 2018)

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

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