The XFL will return, two years from today, with an eight-team league for a 10-game season. So which eight cities will get franchises?
XFL proprietor Vince McMahon hasn’t commenced the process of selecting cities for the resurrected league that will “re-imagine” football. When the league first gave it a whirl in 2001, the launch cities were New York, San Francisco, Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Memphis, Birmingham, and Chicago, giving NFL cities three of the five teams. (The NFL has since returned to Los Angeles, and the Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas.)
The process can go in various directions, from large markets that have NFL teams (like New York, L.A., or Chicago) to cities that lost NFL teams (like St. Louis, San Diego, or eventually Oakland) to cities that have been linked to the NFL (like San Antonio). The XFL could target cities that have a geographic connection to a popular college program (like Columbus, Ohio), with the goal of rounding up former players from the past several years and bringing them all back together with a loose connection to the college team the locals follow.
Much of the decision-making process will depend on the availability of a suitable venue. Also, it will be critical to properly gauge fan interest in each market.
It could make sense to initially put the teams within fairly close proximity, reducing travel expenses and promoting geographic rivalries. I asked McMahon last week to explain the persistent failure of professional football leagues other than the NFL over the past 45 years, and he said, “Undercapitalization.” Under that theory, money saved necessarily becomes extra capital for unavoidable costs associated with staging games.
However it plays out, the looming “where” will go a long way toward determining whether the league succeeds or fails. Despite the buzz generated by Thursday’s announcement, the league won’t succeed without a following that embraces the sport, both by attending games and watching them, on TV or whatever portal the XFL prefers.
Until it can find a true following, with sustainable numbers over a period of more than a couple years, most will regard the XFL as the next new football league that is destined to arrive with a splash and exit with a sputter.