A lot of football fans are disappointed with the NFL. Between new safety rules, the kneeling protest controversies and the fact that no official in the league seems to know how to rule a catch, fans have a plethora of reasons to stop watching the NFL.
About a week ago, I heard the news of the return of the XFL, an independent football league that was shut down after its only season in 2001. Understanding how big of a flop the XFL was, I’m definitely skeptical of its return. However, if there were ever a time to introduce and popularize an alternative football league, it would be now.
Yes, the XFL failed. Yes, the NFL attracts more viewers than presidential debates. Yes, football is the most watched sport in the U.S. and the NFL dominates the football scene. But, there are a lot of pigskin fans who have gone on strike from watching the NFL. What are they going to do, watch the Canadian Football League?
I was only three years old when the XFL had its inaugural (and final) season, but I remember scrolling through YouTube some years later and seeing clips of players from the league. The style and personality of the league intrigued me. I grew up watching the NFL and the WWE. I loved the high-intensity, athletic achievements I saw from the NFL and adored the personalities and stories behind each of the superstars in the WWE. I couldn’t help but be captivated by the crossover between the two styles.
All of the XFL players had personality. Not only did they have the crazy celebrations that fans loved, but the self-chosen nicknames on the backs of their jerseys gave the players an outlet to express that personality. Rod “He Hate Me” Smart was an utter genius. He wasn’t a great football player and there are probably very few people who remember his highlights but he is still talked about today for his personality.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon is a smart guy. How many people can turn a television series consisting of fixed, fake wrestling matches into a billion-dollar industry? He knows what people want to see.
In his XFL relaunch announcement, he thoroughly emphasized that the fans will get what they want.
“We’re going to ask a lot of questions and listen to players, coaches,” McMahon said. “We’re going to listen to medical experts, technology experts, members of the media and anyone else who understands and loves the game of football. But most importantly we are going to be listening to the fans.”
Football fans want a voice. Open Twitter during any Sunday during the football season and there is no doubt you will see a slew of tweets criticizing the NFL. The fans want to improve the game they love. Can you blame them?
The XFL was rushed and chock-full of gimmicks. The “opening scramble,” no fair catches and the “bump and run” rule were just ridiculous.
McMahon has learned from his failure. His plan to reintroduce the XFL in 2020 will give him plenty of time to recognize and listen to the demands of football fans and iron out the kinks that hindered the original XFL.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: There is a demographic of football fans who are fed up with politics in sports. Some people want their entertainment to be separate from politics, especially in today’s political environment. For them, sports should be a three-hour vacation from reality. McMahon looks to satisfy that desire with the XFL.
In the midst of the giant failure of the XFL, fans often forget that the league brought many advancements to the game of football. They were not the first league to utilize a sky cam; however, they were the first to popularize its use. Can you imagine watching a football broadcast without an overhead view?
As a journalist, my favorite innovation the XFL brought about is the increase in sideline and halftime interviews. They provide the fans and reporters with insight into the team’s game plan for the second half.
Agree or disagree with McMahon’s plan, the XFL is the perfect storm. Its timing, format and mission are the best way any alternative league could possibly compete with the giant that is the NFL. I am genuinely excited for the technological advancements, rule changes and refreshed format that the XFL will bring to the game of football.
Sam Arslanian is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Mondays.