XFL 2.0: Vince McMahon offers a cloudy vision of his newest attempt to ‘re-imagine’ football
|National Post 26 Jan 2018 at 07:10|
Vince McMahon is bringing back the XFL. It’s just like the old saying goes: If at first you don’t succeed, wait 20 years and then try again, but this time do a lot of things the exact opposite of the way you tried them the first time.
That may not be exactly how the saying goes.
There was a point a couple of months ago, when rumours first started that McMahon, the wildly rich wrestling impresario, was going to restart his failed football venture, that you could at least squint at it a certain way and get a sense of what he was trying to do.
The National Football League has had some TV-ratings problems of late, and it has had the long-running controversy over certain players kneeling during the national anthem, and some people think the sport is ruining itself by trying to eliminate dangerous hits. As it happens, the President of the United States has criticized the NFL for all of those things. McMahon’s wife, Linda, is in the Trump cabinet.
In that light, you could see where McMahon might have been headed. The original XFL, which launched in 2001 and also died in 2001, was infamously pro-violence. There were no fair catches on punts, and the coin toss was replaced with an opening tussle for the ball (seriously!), and there was a general vibe that this was FOOTBALL, dammit. The links to McMahon’s wrestling business were overt, and you got the sense that if he could figure out a way to allow the football players to brain each other with a steel chair, he would have done it.
So it was reasonable to assume that the new XFL would have tried to recapture some of that: A wilder league for football fans who, like Donald Trump, think the NFL has gone soft.
Instead, McMahon announced on Thursday that the XFL, which would begin play in 2020 with eight teams and a 10-game schedule, would be football “re-imagined.” The imagination part, oddly, is mostly still to come.
On a conference call with media, McMahon said the main goal of the XFL is “to give football back to fans.” If you can figure out what that means, you are ahead of me. The WWE boss said it would be a safer version of football, where medical expertise would be sought, but he also said it would be faster-paced, and the sizzle-reel video that launched on Thursday also promised “fewer infractions.” McMahon also said that one of the ideas under consideration is no halftime period, in an effort to speed up the game to a tidy two hours. So: fewer penalties, and no rest and recovery at halftime, but also … safer? These things seem hard to square. Are the games going to be played in a bouncy castle? A giant ball pit?
Where the original XFL was a joint venture with the broadcaster NBC, which bailed after one season because the ratings had tanked, McMahon says he is going alone on this. He’s investing US$100 million of his own money in the new XFL, and his new company Alpha Entertainment will own all the franchises and set all the rules, likely including one that will require players to stand during the national anthem. Asked on the conference call what kinds of opportunities there would be for crossovers between the WWE and XFL, McMahon said none whatsoever. This time, he’s keeping the football business totally separate, an indication that if the XFL ends up being the equivalent of McMahon setting $100 million on fire, the WWE won’t be caught up in the conflagration. Oh, and where the first XFL played up the sex appeal of cheerleaders — NBC’s own Bob Costas called it a cross between high-school football and a “tawdry strip club” — this one, McMahon says, will be “family friendly.”