How to "Save" the XFL

By the Masked Prognosticator

Should the XFL be using more tough guy interviewers and color commentators like Jesse Ventura to promote it's unique brand of football?
Photo: Associated Press

(27 February 2001) -- With steady crowds in some cities, stabilizing ratings, and a dedicated hardcore fan base, the death of the XFL has been greatly exaggerated.

The ratings have declined but you knew that going in, though their rapid decline is troubling.

Rumors abound that NBC will soon dump the XFL. I doubt it. With tens of millions of dollars invested, and no football contract with the NFL, the XFL should a home on NBC.

However, I feel strongly that the XFL's days in NBC's Saturday night lineup are numbered, and that is fine. The XFL belongs on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, not competing for prime time ratings.

Even the NFL, NBA, baseball and NHL are NOT on prime time network television from fall to spring- except for playoff and All-Star games. With the exception of Monday Night Football, regular season pro sports do NOT draw on prime time TV except for in the summer against reruns. Isn't it a bit much to ask the fledgling XFL to do the same?

NBC dropped the ball with it's XFL strategy. The right move would have been to show the first game on prime time, grab a portion of the large audience, THEN in week 2 broadcast on a day slot. You grab the headlines and publicity of the great ratings number, then save face in week 2 when all the curiosity seekers don't tune in.

Now, you have no-win situation where NBC may be forced to embarrass themselves and Vince McMahon by "canceling" the XFL on prime time.

Don't worry- when the axe falls, the core audience, the 2.0 18-30 year old demos, will follow the XFL no matter what time slot you put it on. And even if NBC dumps the league altogether, an improbability since they are under contract, TNN and UPN should be happy with 2.0 ratings.

What we have learned is that the XFL will NOT be a mainstream phenomenon for right now. It's place is among successful cult TV shows on the lines of pro wrestling, Battle-bots and American Gladiators. Once NBC relegates the XFL to that status, the question will then become can the league stay profitable, but that's a story for another day.

Then there are the critics and the media. The fact that the media have destroyed the XFL is not shocking. Think about it. You are a sports beat writer. Your living depends on getting access to NFL football players and locker rooms. You put over the threatening XFL, your certainly are NOT going to be as over with the Jerry Jones and Danny Snyders of the world. See under "press pass revoked".

But enough rationalization. I'm not just an XFL writer, but I also am a fan, and I am willing to face reality. The XFL has many flaws, and it is an endangered though certainly NOT extinct species. With some fine tuning, I think the XFL can be a huge hit for a very, very long time. Here's my 2 cents:

CASH IN ON THE $1 MILLION DOLLAR GAME SHOW CRAZE

Frankly, I can not believe the XFL with all it's brilliant marketing never caught on to this. What is the grand prize for the team that wins the Big Game at the End?

$1 million dollars!

What are the two top rated TV shows of the past year and a half?

"Survivor" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire".

Their Grand Prizes?

Yup. Of course the answer is $1 MILLION DOLLARS!!!!

The XFL has done a POOR job at promoting this. They've done a a decent job of reminding the fans that these are NOT all major league players, just good football players who are regular guys trying to win 2500 bucks each week. But what XFL's Marketing Department has forgotten is that the XFL really is NOT a football league- it is a GAME SHOW.

Why not each week, in the promos, REMIND the viewers that $1 million is ultimately at stake? In their commercials, repeat like a mantra, "$1 million, 1 million". Trust me, it's a marketing hot button in our country right now. Can you say "Who Wants to MARRY a Millionaire"? Top selling book: "The Millionaire Mind".

How about this commercial? Have an announcer say "Who wants to be a Millionaire?". Then have some XFL players, covered in mud, sweating, during a game, one after another, say "I do!" into the camera. Intersperse the commercial with footage of the hardest XFL hits you can get, with the message being that these guys are playing this hard because they want to win the jackpot! Or whatever, but you get the idea.

I say screw the $2500. As the Boz might yell . . "Let's talk 7 figures, BABY!!!!".

GET TOUGH GUY INTERVIEWERS

I loved what Jesse Ventura did with Rusty Tillman Saturday night. Rusty, not a wrestling personality, didn't play along, but the Body was great doing his pro wrestling shtick.

Except for Michael Barkan, who does a great job getting in the players faces, most of the time it's some wimpy reporter asking the coach a wussy question then getting a crummy response. Or better yet, tough guy coaches throwing papers in the interviewers faces and threatening them.

Why not have more Jesse asking the tough questions? How about guys like Mr. T? Or Ken Shamrock? Or some washed up boxer like Michael Spinks?

I'd love to see Rusty Tillman pick a fight with them! How great would it be to see Tank Abbott ask Kippy Brown how bad he feels that his play calling is going to cost his players $2500 each (and of course, a shot at the $1 million?).

Here's another idea. Let's say a player makes a bad play and the fans start booing. Why not stop the game and let Chuck Zito run out to the field and get in his face?

Also, referees should be called to the carpet immediately by reporters after making questionable calls.

LAY DOWN THE LAW WITH UNCOOPERATIVE COACHES

Chuck Puleri getting into it with the New York fans over the house mike was one of the best moments in the XFL. Then Rusty Tillman gets all over him! Next week, Rusty runs off the field and refuses to talk to Jesse Ventura.

Look, when you are trying to coach a team, the sideline reporters are very distracting. They need to respect that these guys are trying to win. But guys like Rusty need to get into the act more. The coaches and the players KNEW when they signed what the deal was.

McMahon needs to send out a memo: Coaches, let your players have fun. Do the interviews, even if you are pissed. Or next season, it's back to Arena 2.

By the way, just as an aside, sideline reporters- GIVE THE GUYS A COUPLE MINUTES TO CATCH THEIR BREATH!


DON'T INTERVIEW EVERYBODY

If there is a huge, glaring flaw with the XFL, it's that Vince McMahon thought that his football players would have great personalities and become big stars. What he forgot is that unlike the WWF wrestlers, football players are NOT trained on how to give interviews.

Spend more time with Chuck Puleri or trash talking Mike Pawlawski, even if they don't make a big play or mistake. Identify who gives great comments and who does not, and make sure only the right personalities get on camera.

Hand out a $2000 bonus to the player or coach that gives the best interview of the week. I'd bet THAT would inject a little personality in some of these guys!


CHANGE THE RULES IN MID-SEASON

Why not? This is the XFL. Like J.R. said, it's "work in progress" This is Vince McMahon' league. He with NBC owns all the teams. He doesn't have to answer to a Rules Committee or a Board of Governors.

Why not throw in some rules to make the games more interesting? They did in week 2 after J.Lo had a hissy fit! If they can do it for her, why can't they do it for themselves and the fans?

It was the curiosity factor that gained the XFL 10 rating points in the first place. Wouldn't some wild ass rule changes bring some of those curiosity seekers back?

How about a 12th Man Rule. For one play and one play only during a game, either team may run a play with 12 men on the field. Or announce for one weekend only, the team that outscores the other by the most points gets an additional $1000 bonus?

How about with only three games left in the season, you announce that whichever team wins the most of the remaining games, regardless of the current standings, gets an extra bonus and their city gets to host the Big Game (though I feel the BG should be held on the home field of the finalist with the best record). Or the #1 draft pick. If there were more teams, how about a fifth playoff spot?

Whatever. This would get teams like possibly 0-7 Chicago something to play for.

Here' my all time favorite rule change idea: the 3 point conversion. After scoring a touchdown, say a team is still down by 2 or 3 points. They can run a play from the 35 yard line or kick an extra point from the 50. If successful, they get 3 extra ticks!

If you have a matchup between two low scoring teams, such as Las Vegas vs. Chicago, announce that field goals will be worth only 2 points each for that game only. You can think of a thousand ideas.

After all, this is the XFL. If it' going to be extreme football, MAKE IT EXTREME!!

Hey, "Survivor" has a different contest each week, right?

Look we don' expect the XFL to implement these ideas (though, as a fans league, I wouldn't be surprised if they did!). But the message is clear: SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE.

What are your thoughts? You can email the Masked Prognosticator at NFLXFLtout@aol.com