Earlier this year WWE’s Vince McMahon made waves when he announced his intention to bring back the ill-fated XFL, saying in January that he planned to re-launch the league in 2020.
At the time I said it was a terrible idea and one that seems destined to fail.
Well yesterday the XFL got even more bad news, Charlie Ebersol, former NFL GM Bill Polian, and a host of former NFL players announced that they were making their own non-NFL football league, the Alliance of American Football, and to rub salt into McMahon’s wounds, said it was start in 2019.
Much like the XFL reboot, this is a terrible idea. Though not quite as stupid as McMahon’s for a couple of reasons. First, the AAF has a TV contract with CBS, with the debut game the week after the Super Bowl so they have the momentum, and the championship game airing on big CBS, as well as one game a week airing on CBS Sports Network. Second, the AAF sounds like it will be a gimmick league, which is smart and forward-thinking, because you need something to try and draw people in, aside from the sub-par play.
Their gimmicks include: no TV timeouts, 60 percent fewer commercials, no kickoffs, no onside kicks but instead the “kicking” team will have a 4th and 10 play, and mandatory two-point conversions after touchdowns, all fun ideas.
And beyond those two is the Fan Controlled Football league, based on the IFL team, the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, who let fans vote on everything from coaches, to player signings, to what plays to call. They’re starting an entire league based on this idea, and will play every game in the same arena while fans at home, or in the arena, do everything that the Screaming Eagles did last year.
But these leagues all face the same problem that the XFL did when it originally launched in 2001: Football at all levels at that time was on the rise, so it seemed like a perfect time to try to cash in on the craze. NFL ratings were starting to jump towards the insane numbers we saw over the past few years, before a drop the last couple years. The Arena Football League was on the rise with more than a dozen teams, and games soon to be broadcast weekly on ESPN and NBC. So for Vince McMahon and NBC, it made sense to try to get in on the football action by starting their own league.
Needless to say, things are no longer that way, with dropping TV ratings for both college and NFL games, and participation in the game at the youth levels way down after countless researches saying that the game basically kills you, football is not as desirable or popular as it was in 2001 when the XFL, or any of these other leagues might have been a good idea.
Add in that these leagues are staggering starts, FCFL sometime this year, but no firm date announced, the AAF in 2019, and the XFL in 2020, combine that with the previously mentioned declining interest in the highest levels of football, and what makes you think that any of these low-level alphabet soup leagues is going to be successful?
There are already countless leagues and teams that try to make some sort of minor league football work all over the country, be it indoor or outdoor football, and all of these leagues have teams that fold-up shop almost weekly, or sometimes the leagues themselves go down in a ball of flames. The once-popular Arena Football League is down to four teams; the National Arena League, which fancies itself as a competitor to the AFL thought it would have 12 teams this year…they have six; The Indoor Football League, viewed as the second best indoor league, had to pay to steal two teams from a rival smaller league in order to have a season this year…and then those teams were told they couldn’t play in a court ruling and that league also has six teams now.
And it’s not getting any better as those teams and leagues compete for a pool of players that shrinks every year.
There are only so many football players who are willing to put their body and lives on the line for a living, and the NFL and CFL are currently the only places that pay players enough to take that risk. The AFL may be worth it now after a new collective bargaining agreement that pays players upwards of $30k a year for 12-14 games. The original XFL came close to that, and these leagues need to pay competitive salaries if they want anything close to the caliber of good play.
Oh, and Vince and the XFL say no players with a criminal background will be allowed to play, draining an already shallow pool just a little bit more.
But again, in one or two years, who knows what the talent pool will be like as it continues to shrink. So while the XFL might be a shot of nostalgia that a handful of people and cities might be excited for, and the AAF is a close replication of the NFL but with some good changes that could be a preview of the game going forward, I promise that the action on the field is going to be bad, and ultimately, that’s what keeps fans away, no matter how many gimmicks you add or take out. It can be the most straight-forward, simple football ever, but if the guys playing it stink, then nobody is going to care.
Oh, and you know the XFL and AAF are going to be competing for cities for their new leagues, and as all of these failed leagues and teams have shown, there are only so many cities who are willing so support football that isn’t the NFL or college. There are going to be blood wars for the usual cities like Memphis, Birmingham, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis, cities that have never had the NFL, or once had it and are looking to fill that void after their teams left.
But if that’s how Vince McMahon and other rich people want to spend their money, nobody is going to be able to convince them not to do it. I’ll honestly be amazed if any of the leagues mentioned above ever plays a game. I’ll believe the FCFL, AAF,or XFL is a real league when I see a ball in the air on their projected start date.