Will XFL pivot toward old-school football?

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The XFL has been quiet since announcing its plan to return in 2020. But the preparations continue for the resurrection of the sports league that captured the imagination (but not nearly enough dollars) of American football fans in 2001.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the XFL quietly continues to conduct the research and planning necessary to give the XFL a solid foundation. With 22 months to go until the games begin, the XFL has plenty of time to figure out how to do things the way it wants to do them.

With the Alliance of American Football planning to start a year earlier than the XFL — and already dropping teams in non-NFL cities like Orlando — the XFL will need to factor the AAF’s apparent goals and objectives into the crafting of the new XFL game. Will the XFL put teams in the same cities where the AAF will be playing? If the AAF picks non-NFL cities, will the XFL decide to put football teams in towns that already are served by the NFL?

The biggest philosophical question relates to the style of play. The XFL, according to Vince McMahon, will attempt to be at the forefront of player safety. With the NFL taking safety to the extreme via the new helmet rule, the looming elimination of the kickoff, and the eventual (possibly) removal of the three-point stance, maybe the XFL’s vow to “reimagine” football should include turning back the clock.

Although liability concerns may cause the XFL to shy away from old-school, rock ’em, sock ’em football, no players can claim that they don’t understand the risks — and any competent lawyer can draft a player contract containing a waiver that will include a full and complete acknowledgement that, in return for the opportunity to play and the compensation that goes with it, the player accepts the risks inherent to the specific type of game the XFL will play.

As a practical matter, getting sued is a sign of success. If the XFL opts to play football the same way that the NFL and the AAF will play it, the XFL may never come close to generating nearly enough interest and revenue to survive.

Said McMahon in January, “We’ll be asking football fans what they want and what they don’t want.” But the answers the XFL gets will depend on which fans are asked what they want and what they don’t want.

As explained in November 2016 in the aftermath of an extensive SI.com article looking at the state of football in America, a silent majority of football fans may want old-school football. It’s generally regarded as uncouth or non-mainstream for reporters or broadcasters to say that, since most who cover sports have tried (consciously or not) to steer the discussion toward an unconditional embrace of safety, safety, and more safety in football.

Meanwhile, plenty of fans don’t want safety, at least not at the professional level. MDS recently made an excellent comparison between football and karate. Parents don’t want to see their kids get kicked in the face, but those same parents will pay $64.95 every four or five weeks to watch adults kick each other in the face during UFC events.

Plenty of football fans may feel the same way. But with the NFL pushing hard for safety (in large part to influence lower levels of the sport to follow the NFL’s lead) and most of the media pushing for even more safety advances and in turn (at times gleefully) predicting the demise of the sport, many of those who buy tickets and consume TV broadcasts and otherwise support the sport may want to see football like it used to be. For the XFL, that may be the target audience, and that may be the ticket to creating a league that not only will compete successfully with the AAF, but also will potentially shift its schedule to traditional football season, with much greater results than the USFL experienced.

67 responses to “Will XFL pivot toward old-school football?

  1. I think the XFL should focus on playing at least mediocre football.

    They failed before because the games were terrible. And every week things got worse as players got injured and new guys had to step up and play.

    I think people are getting too ahead of themselves with the XFL, they need to find players and actually practice for more than a week. The XFL game was brutal, and hype only gave them one week of people’s interest.

  2. Whichever of the two leagues positions itself more closely with the NFL and attempts to become a minor league with ties to the NFL will succeed. Whoever goes into it thinking they are “competing” with it and does things which antagonize the NFL will fail.

    People will care about a second league only as an extension of what they are already watching. They are not going to be loyal to a clown league that’s sole gimmick is “we’re not the NFL”.

  3. There are some really good football players out there who deserve a chance to keep playing. I hope they put a team in Cleveland so we can have football worth watching.

  4. For the life of me I don’t understand why a start up league doesn’t try to take market share from the college pool. Attract 18-21 year olds via $100K salaries. The league can attract top talent and players can still aspire to the NFL.

  5. All the NFL has to do to destroy the XFL and AAF is eliminate the salary cap. And if they do that, the return of the super teams will be back. (ie. Niners and Cowboys of the 80’s)

  6. Vince McMahon knows nothing about football. He should save his money rather than compete with the AAF, which already has a television deal and locations.

  7. As a long time NFL fan since 1956, I can say that old school tackle football with great defense is what kept me watching all these years…until the last 3-4 years, when constant rule changes,changing the very nature of the sport, has reduced my interest to the point of watching less than two quarters average per week, mainly checking box scores.Take away kick offs, no 3 point stance, complicated rules that the players and referees do not understand.Flags after every other play destroying game continuity, incessant commercial breaks and exceedingly high cost to attend games and you have the model for a broken league with a relative short future.This game has become unwatchable in the name of safety and accompanied by greed and I do fear that the NFL has ” Cooked ” the golden goose.These two new football leagues better wake up or they are doomed before they start.I cannot see the NFL lasting any more than a short time playing ” Flag Football “..We are heading to a very expensive no contact flag football League and I, for one, will Not support same. I know there are many who share my views.This current NFL train is heading for derailment, of that , I am sure. db

  8. The NFL is becoming a shadow of its former self. Expect a barrage of penalties called early on in the 2018 season, with players trying to adjust to major changes in the rules. How it all plays out, in the long run, is yet to be determined. When the TV ratings start to drop (even more than they already have), NFL management will take notice.

  9. “All the NFL has to do to destroy the XFL and AAF is eliminate the salary cap.”

    Are you kidding us? The NFL is all about its treasured parity. They already have issues with teams like Cleveland where the owner was 41 million under the cap in 2016 and a whopping 63 million under last season. The top 24 teams were 12 million or less under the cap.

    Can you imagine what would happen with no cap? If the NFL were to dump it their entire model would fall apart, as well as any hope of competitiveness from the bottom have of the league.

  10. You mean the owner of the new league has stated he will actually listen to “the FANS”!

    Hey, come on, we aren’t used to being treated like that.

    Also, their players won’t be kneeling?

    This approach may actually gather a lot of interest.

  11. any competent lawyer can draft a player contract containing a waiver that will include a full and complete acknowledgement that, in return for the opportunity to play and the compensation that goes with it, the player accepts the risks inherent to the specific type of game the XFL will play.

    Then why can’t the NFL? I would think they have better lawyers at their disposal than the XFL.

  12. They should set up shop in cities that have lost or will soon lose NFL teams – San Diego, Oakland, St Louis etc. Halftime shows should include the Ginger Hammer piñata contest.

  13. Not interested in either the XFL or AAF. NFL south of the border and CFL north of the border is all I need!!!

  14. You want to compete with the NFL then play the NFL game from the 70s and 80s, without all the sissy rules!

  15. jimnaizeeum says:
    April 8, 2018 at 1:23 pm
    any competent lawyer can draft a player contract containing a waiver that will include a full and complete acknowledgement that, in return for the opportunity to play and the compensation that goes with it, the player accepts the risks inherent to the specific type of game the XFL will play.

    Then why can’t the NFL? I would think they have better lawyers at their disposal than the XFL.
    —————

    NFLPA

  16. When I was a teenager I briefly tried out boxing as my sport. Didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t like getting hit in the face. Somewhat surprisingly, I also realized I didn’t like hitting the other guy in the face. But without that, there is no boxing, or most other martial “arts”.
    Football is tough, extremely physical, and people get hurt. But to many of us, it is NOT primarily about the brutality, but about the speed, athleticism, precise team work, etc.
    I not only don’t need the brutality, I don’t want to see Burfict intentionally go after Brown’s head. Or anyone try to win by injuring as many opponents as they can.
    Whether or not the NFL can maintain a style of paly that allows for what I enjoy without the physical toll it now takes, I don’t know.
    But I do know that if all you want is brutality, then go watch kick boxing; or fake brutality in the WWE. Leave football to people that enjoy it as a sport, not for the blood.

  17. If you believe you have a better product you open your store right next to the front runner and win over their customers by proving your better front and center head to head.

  18. The NFL doesn’t care what the fans want.
    Hopefully the XFL will listen and implement suggestions from the fans.

  19. Brutality = Suh stomping on a player’s head. Burfict’s countless cheap shots.

    Not Brutality = Malcolm Jenkins laying the wood to Brandin Cooks.

    Brutality can leave. But hits like Jenkins on Cooks is what makes the game fun. Bring back “Jacked Up!”

  20. People can comment about the XFL bringing back smash mouth football and implementing suggestions from fans, and on and on. But as the XFL found out the last time, none of it matters if the players stink.

    Any league that doesn’t play nice with the NFL and is stuck trying to get by with cast-offs and never were’s will fail. For the same reason no one watches Division III college football, no one will watch a league full of bad players, no matter how much if fulfills their desire to see players get injured.

    They didn’t before, and they won’t again.

  21. Much ado about nothing. It may implode in a year just like the last time. A lot of hoopla over a whole bunch of nothing.

  22. Old school football returns? I might actually have to tune in and check it out. I haven’t seen that in about 10 years now.

  23. Please don’t feed this “silent majority” nonsense. The McMahons are feeling their oats in their temporary Trumpland-fueled state of delusion, but the outcome of this will be much like the election – it will please the trolls but everyone else will be appalled.

    The reality is, the majority of football fans are watching football now, as it is now. The novelty factor of the new league will be quickly overcome by the low standard of play, the complete lack of cultural history, and the lower stakes of all kinds. People won’t suddenly be OK with concussions and increased injuries just because someone thinks they should.

    The whole basis for this is that some people want to see some aspects brought back *to the NFL*. If it’s not the NFL, then none of the changes will have the same relevance to people.

    If the current commissioner and owners weren’t such buffoons, we could have changes that make sense without creating so much controversy. But this bunch can’t shoot straight and seems to have no understanding of the public implications of any decision they make.

  24. One of the most straight-up, even-handed things I’ve seen you write, Florio. Well done…

  25. harrisonhits2 says:
    April 8, 2018 at 1:22 pm
    “All the NFL has to do to destroy the XFL and AAF is eliminate the salary cap.”

    Are you kidding us? The NFL is all about its treasured parity. They already have issues with teams like Cleveland where the owner was 41 million under the cap in 2016 and a whopping 63 million under last season. The top 24 teams were 12 million or less under the cap.

    Can you imagine what would happen with no cap? If the NFL were to dump it their entire model would fall apart, as well as any hope of competitiveness from the bottom have of the league.

    ……………………….
    Most owners don’t care if they compete, they only care about making money. Does the NFL make teams spend their money? NO! So, who gives a crap if teams like the Browns don’t want to compete. I want to watch winners, not some lousy team that doesn’t care. Also, I would like to see the NFL tell teams if you don’t spend the money you lose the money.

  26. It has no chance to be successful, and the fact that guys in here are ramped up about “old school football” is laughable.

  27. Honest answer: Who cares? Its at least two years away and was laughable the last time around.

  28. pastabelly says:
    April 8, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Vince McMahon knows nothing about football. He should save his money rather than compete with the AAF, which already has a television deal and locations.

    =======

    And Roger Goodell is an arbitrator / PR flack. What’s your point?

  29. Robert says:
    April 8, 2018 at 3:44 pm
    Give football back to the true fans. Low cost “meat and potatoes” ball.
    ___________

    Low cost = low revenue
    Low revenue = low player salaries
    Low player salaries = low quality of product

    If you want to watch cheap football, drive over to your local high school on a Friday night. If you want to watch the best in the world, you will need to spend money to do so.

  30. I’d like to see them make Thursday Night their premiere product, and have it succeed, l just to prove to the NFL that Thursday Night Football sucks

  31. r8drn8tn says: “For the life of me I don’t understand why a start up league doesn’t try to take market share from the college pool. Attract 18-21 year olds via $100K salaries. The league can attract top talent and players can still aspire to the NFL.
    —————

    Millions of people watch college football because of the school and built-in fan base. Playing for the Birmingham AAF team will have little to zero exposure.

    But seriously, put 18 & 19-year olds against bigger, stronger men would just get them crushed.

  32. People are underestimating how BAD the football product is going to be for the AAF/XFL.

    Put it this way, the 2017 Cleveland Browns would absolutely CRUSH every team in the AAF/XFL. Let’s not forget that those 0-16 Browns players were all big-time college stars and got drafted at some point, meaning they’re still a lot better than what’s left over after the drafts.

  33. Pro Football is over as we know it.

    Been following this league since 1971.

    Not too excited about the future of the league, I used to love.

    Guess I will work on my will.

  34. The players don’t care about my health, and I don’t care about theirs. What’s the problem? Sign a waiver, design a better helmet (seriously c’mon guys), and play some football.

  35. Use the 1985 NFL rulebook.
    No instant replay or coaches challenges.
    No male cheerleaders.

  36. akira554 says:

    People are underestimating how BAD the football product is going to be for the AAF/XFL.

    Put it this way, the 2017 Cleveland Browns would absolutely CRUSH every team in the AAF/XFL. Let’s not forget that those 0-16 Browns players were all big-time college stars and got drafted at some point, meaning they’re still a lot better than what’s left over after the drafts.
    ========================================================

    The same thing was said about the AFL. The Jets won the Super Bowl.

  37. With the NFL being such a cash cow it’s no wonder others want in on the opportunity, but can we just admit a competing league is NOT going to work?

    Even if you position the new league to be more of a “farm system,” the NFL itself failed at that with NFL Europe/World League. Even if you could get the finances to work, are people really interested in “minor league” football? There’s a reason AA ballparks only seat 5,000 and not 35,000, and why the G-League (despite solid talent) plays in empty arenas.

    The only way any of these leagues could work would be to pay to get the top talent from college and would-be NFL free agents. The USFL tried that, and despite having a handful of “stars,” they still couldn’t compete. I’m not sure any investors are willing to take 5+ years of increasing losses to cover the salaries which would be required in order to start tho chip into the NFL’s fan base and revenues.

    If people enjoyed I-AA football, the CFL would get higher ratings in the U.S.

  38. Come to the XFL and get your bell rung! Free opioids after every series! PED use encouraged! You won’t make very much money, but we will give the “fans” what they want!

  39. “If you want to watch cheap football, drive over to your local high school on a Friday night. If you want to watch the best in the world, you will need to spend money to do so.”

    High School football is the best in the world, at least for those of us who love the game.

  40. There is about 6-7 NFL teams that when they play, I don’t watch and I love the sport. Just make me feel like the product is bad. I imagine every team in the XFL will make me feel the same way about all the teams. Why venture into a product where the very pinnacle of the sport is changing for safety reasons at the top? Just seems doomed to fail…again.

  41. The NFL has been watering down their fan base for years in the name of offensive explosions in exchange for more casual fans. If the XFL brought back old school football and let defenses play defense they might have a chance of getting some attention. They wouldn’t have to spend a ton of cash to lure some projected higher draft picks from the NFL either, I don’t think they are gonna steal any 1st rounders but there’s a lot of good players after the first 32 that would be interested in becoming a star in a different league.

  42. sounds like they’re doing it semi-thoughtfully.

    if they focus on player safety even more than the NFL, better players will stay on the field which will maximize the value of the product they’re offering. more average xfl players playing longer means they’ll have a chance to develop talent and perhaps become an alternative to playing in college (esp if they hire good coaches/gms).

    Presumably their more successfull end game would be to merge with the NFL. The most likely route for this to happen is for them to steal the best college players who are unable to play in SEC or in other big programs, pay and develop them. If the NFL owned XFL as a development league, presumably teams could acquire draft rights earlier.

    (I have a hard time imagining them wanting to merge with NFL at the same status as existing franchises, but there is big potential in a development league if they pay well and can steal college players and viewers)

  43. Ask the fans what they want and you will get a million different answers. There’s no consensus.

    I preferred watching the game in the 80s and 90s. There was defense there was a running game. There were grass fields and outdoor stadiums. That’s never coming back.

    And these new leagues won’t have enough money or star power to succeed even if they bring back old school games

  44. benniehifive says: “I don’t think they are gonna steal any 1st rounders but there’s a lot of good players after the first 32 that would be interested in becoming a star in a different league.”
    ———————

    Second round picks still average between $4m-$9m contracts over 4 years. 3rd-7th round picks get $2.4m-$2.9m, so unless these leagues get an influx of cash, there’s no way they’re signing away any drafted player.

  45. Michael E says: “The same thing was said about the AFL. The Jets won the Super Bowl.”
    ————————–

    The NFL is a $15B business now, way different than the 1960’s. The AFL was able to sign more than half the college drafts because back then the average salary for both leagues was only around $10,000-$20,000 (with no minimum.)

  46. Akira you seem set on the XFL not being able to get any talent from college…I don’t know how much money will be invested in the league but McMahon is worth a couple billion so he could afford to pay a couple of the NFL’s 2nd or 3rd rounders comparatively. Also here’s an interesting thought….if they said players had to be only 2 years removed from college they would undercut the NFL by a year and make it a little more tempting. None of this will probably happen, but my original point was that nobody will watch if they don’t have talent on the field and if they want talent they will have to roll the dice and pay a few guys.

  47. “The (possible) eventual removal of the 3 point stance” holy cow. Here’s some more: no more QB sacks, if QB scrambles, cannot be tackled to the ground, only wrapped up or forced out of bounds. Why have defense on the field at all? Why not just put some turnstiles out there and other obstacles? What happened to football.

  48. What’s interesting in this article is Florio actually implies that the media is told to advise and support a much safer NFL.. They are told not to support “old fashion football”.

  49. If the XFL is smart, they’ll put their teams in cities that aren’t on the cusp of an NFL team. Cities like Orlando, Portland, OKC and Birmingham are cities that if not for their geographic location to other NFL towns, would be a viable option. They should focus on smaller markets that have no shot at a big league team. I’m thinking towns like Omaha, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Billings, etc. Towns where they will be the only ticket in town, but still big enough to fill a stadium. If the “Alliance” is in Orlando, stay out of Orlando. Don’t let ego get in the way like before. Trust me, if you’re at home in an NFL city and you want to watch more Pro football, you won’t care where the teams are from.

  50. The XFL needs to swim upstream if the NFL and AAFL is going to swim downstream. They’ve got to do the opposite and HOPE it’s what fans want. The first thing I’d do is allow steroids and make it a BIG part of the advertising campaign highlighting it. Perhaps something with exoskeleton suits for a hybrid man/machine league. The helmets the football players wear today are wholly inadequate for where this is going so more of a Formula F1 helmet would be needed. All-in-all, I’m thinking of some combination of football and Rollerball is where it goes. Find the right combinations of assimilation’s and you may be at the forefront of the future.

  51. If you just want to see players stand for the special song and the get maimed on the field of play then you are a freak, and it’s disturbing that someone is going to cater to your needs.

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