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.