The XFL will return in 2020 after a 19-year hiatus, promising the same disruption to the football status quo that was its goal the last time, but now with a kinder, gentler face.
Vince McMahon, the pro wrestling impresario behind the original version, made the announcement Thursday on a conference call with reporters that was streamed live on several platforms.
“Quite frankly, we’re going to give the game of football back to fans,” the WWE chief executive said.
McMahon was short on details, beyond saying that the inaugural season likely will feature eight teams that will begin play in late January and feature 40-man rosters playing 10-game regular seasons followed by a four-team playoff.
The teams will be owned by a single entity, not franchised, and play in cities that have not yet been chosen.
McMahon was not clear where the players will come from, although the idea is not to compete for elite talent with the NFL. But he was clear that character will be a strong criterion, part of a family-friendly approach that is in sharp contrast to the sex-and-violence marketing behind the first XFL.
“Even if you have a DUI, you will not play in the XFL,” he said. “That will probably eliminate some of them, not all of them.”
That would be problematic for someone such as quarterback Johnny Manziel. But what of Colin Kaepernick, who has been shut out of an NFL job since his kneeling during the pregame national anthem became a cause cèlébre in 2016?
McMahon did not rule out Kaepernick, but he made it clear that the league will have a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem. “Whatever our rules are are what everyone will abide by,” he said.
He said his intention is to keep politics from infiltrating the league. (His wife, Linda, is the Administrator of the Small Business Administration for the Trump administration.)
“As far as our league is concerned, it will have nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with social issues, either,” he said. “We’re there to play football.”
The overarching idea is to re-imagine the sport, including improved safety and steps to speed up the game, such as fewer commercial breaks, eliminating halftime and simplifying rules. His goal is to have games last two hours or so compared to three or more in the NFL.
McMahon did not announce a media plan for the XFL, which in 2001 had a partnership with NBC. He promised a “multi-platform” approach that includes “big screens, mobile devices and everything in between.”
The 2001 league shocked everyone involved with its massive opening-week television ratings, but the ratings quickly fell in the face of multiple problems, chief among them a lack of quality on the field.
McMahon said that is the most important lesson he took from the first iteration. “Quite frankly, we only had a very short time to put everything together [in 2001],” he said. “We have two years to get it right.”
There will be no crossover in on-air talent between the WWE and XFL, and McMahon promised to take a back seat in the operation. He said the $100-million startup cost was “a little rich for WWE.” He is personally funding the venture through a new private entity called Alpha Entertainment.
McMahon marveled that so many people remember the nicknames used on XFL jerseys, notably Rod Smart’s “He Hate Me.” But he said no decision has been made whether to use nicknames this time around.
Was there thought given to changing the name of the league itself?
“We did, but we kept coming back to the equity of the XFL that was already there,” McMahon said. “And we think it’s a cool name.”