WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon announced the return of the XFL at a press conference on Thursday, claiming that the league will give fans the opportunity to experience “football reimagined.”
The league is slated to kick off in 2020. It will consist of eight teams, 40-man rosters, and 10 weeks of regular season play, leading to two semifinals and a championship game.
While speaking about his new endeavor, it was clear that McMahon was selling a very different version of the XFL than was initially pitched and broadcast for one failed season in 2001. Opening the press conference, McMahon asked viewers to consider what football would look like if it were “everything you’ve always wanted.”
“Would you eliminate halftime?” “Have fewer commercial breaks?” “Would the game of football be faster?” “Should the rules be more basic?”
While the XFL’s first incarnation branded itself as the return of ‘smash-mouth’ football, the concept of a “safer” game was mentioned a few times throughout the conference. When asked how the league would deal with the issue of concussions, McMahon said, “Reimagining the game of football means reimagining it on all levels.” He concluded by stating that one of the goals of the league would be to “make it as safe as possible.”
While relatively light on details surrounding the specifics of the league, he did lay out a few of its cornerstones. Most notably, he mentioned that “The quality of the human being will be as important as the quality of the player,” and added that no player with any criminal history, even a DUI would be allowed to play in the league. He also claimed the league would remain apolitical, but when pressed acknowledged that players standing for the national anthem would likely be a part of the rulebook.
Handwriting on the Wall
Rumors of the return of the XFL had been swirling for weeks. In December, Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard first reported that McMahon was considering a revival of the league. A WWE spokesperson later told Deadspin’s David Bixenspan that McMahon “has established and is personally funding a separate entity from WWE, Alpha Entertainment, to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscape, including professional football.”
Shortly thereafter, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported that McMahon had sold $100 million worth of WWE stock. It was subsequently reported that the sale was “primarily to fund a separate entity from the Company, Alpha Entertainment LLC.”
On Thursday, that concept became reality.
This time, its all business
In contrast to his diabolical on-screen WWE character, McMahon addressed the media with a serious and professional tone. He took several opportunities to declare that this product would in no way involve or intersect with WWE. In fact, McMahon stated that his involvement in the project would require little-to-no time in front of the camera.
While his first attempt lasted just one season, McMahon might eye the time to be right for a revival. Injuries to star players, off-field legal troubles, and social/political issues have caused a decline in NFL viewership. McMahon is ever the opportunist. As a result, there might never be a better time to present an alternative to the juggernaut that is the NFL. However, failure cannot be considered an option for McMahon. The demise of the first XFL cost him approximately $70 million in losses. Neither McMahon, nor his investors can afford that type of failure again. This time, they have to get it right.
There’s still a long way to go until the XFL kicks off in 2020. However, it was clear from today’s press conference that McMahon is taking this second shot a lot more seriously than he did in 2001.
After all, McMahon is no stranger to selling a product that the ‘world is watching.’
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the AFC East. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC.