The challenges that await the XFL

Will the XFL be able to survive and thrive in the long run, when so many other football leagues haven’t?

The biggest question surrounding the XFL, is will the league be able to survive and thrive in the long run, when so many other football leagues haven’t? A lot of that will hinge on what transpires from now until the start of it’s season in February.

In 2017, unbeknownst to many, a team of employees were hired in preparation for the relaunch of the XFL, before any announcement could be made of the XFL’s return. Vince McMahon needed to work extremely hard to secure risk insurance for his players and the league. Without it, the league wouldn’t be able to proceed. McMahon succeeded by obtaining the services of two of the countries leading sports risk and insurance companies in, The Berkley Group, as well as The Fairly Group. For over two decades, Berkley has insured more pro sports leagues, teams, and professional athletes than any other U.S. insurer. The Fairly group is also an industry leader in the field of risk consulting and management. It was this very action that helped Vince McMahon make his sales pitch to Oliver Luck, to become the CEO and Commissioner of the XFL. This showed Luck, how serious Vince McMahon was.

The first seeds planted in the growth of the XFL was a proactive plan to have the league prepared for adversity, something  most startup business don’t take account of in their early stages. Ninety percent of all startups fail, and they almost all fail in their first year, because they do not effectively factor in all the challenges and pitfalls that are guaranteed to come their way. Start-up companies need to be able to cover all their bases, have proper planning, and be resilient enough to recover from all the blows.

One need not look any further than what happened to the Alliance of American Football. Any business, particularly a start-up business, needs to have contingency plans for the challenges and problems that will inevitably come their way. The Alliance’s plan A was a disaster, and Plan B was an equal catastrophe. The glitch wasn’t in the payroll system, but in the entire plan. While the league presented a good front to the public, the AAF was dead on arrival. Its just that no one knew it publicly. Everything went wrong before the season even started. It makes most wonder how could the AAF could not have seen this coming, and why weren’t they prepared for all the adversity. There’s a reason for that. The concept of a football league has always been fun to imagine and plan, but not as fun once it is realized and set in motion.

Right now, the XFL is in the fun part of league building. Cities and stadiums have been announced, the coaching staffs and front offices are being put together. A TV deal has been announced with two of the very best sports networks, ABC and Fox. The XFL has actually started it’s first run of league events, by working out prospective players in all eight of their markets. They are testing innovative game rules and in-game technologies with the Spring League and their broadcast partners. Team identities will be revealed, players will be signed, teams will draft those players, and then off to training camp and eventually the season.

For all the fun in building a football league from scratch entails, the XFL is going to face many challenges in the lead up to year one. The league is going to have its fair share of doubters and naysayers. Everyone associated with the league needs to embody their founder and have thick skin. Start-ups tend to fail when there is the lack of a dedicated team, and when there is fear of being responsible or being blamed for failure.

Read any article or commentary about the XFL and you will see the same old arguments. The biggest being, whether there is really a market for another pro football league. The question is valid, but has been beaten to death. There are two areas where there really should be very little concern. The first is what ails most startups, a lack of financing. As documented, that’s not an issue with the XFL. The other area, that can be argued is the talent level of the players. This is where I depart from popular opinion. There’s no question in my mind, that there is so much football talent out there in 2019, that a second pro football league is necessary. This is really a result of the quality and evolution of college football programs. There are so many good football players out there,that can’t be fit into just one league.

There are some key areas where I do feel that the XFL will face difficulties. Of course, the big concerns down the road  are attendance, ratings and profitability. How well the leagues does in those areas may be determined by what transpires in the lead up to the February launch. These are what I consider the potential pitfalls of the league leading into year one.

TEAM NAMES/BRANDING

I wouldn’t classify this as an extinction level event, but it has the potential to make or break the league. You could argue that this is the most important and the most difficult decision that the league will make. The XFL can’t afford to get this wrong. The people out there, who have a negative perception of the XFL, expect the team names to reflect the in your face style of the original league. There are people out there who expect the teams to be called the “Dallas Dirtbags” or the “Seattle Psychos.” Those same people probably think that ABC is going to hire OJ Simpson to call the games.

XFL 2020 is certainly not going in that direction. But poor branding could kill the league before it gets off and running. Great branding can really be a difference maker, in not only how the league is viewed, but in how popular the league becomes. Once the names are revealed there’s no going back. How well the names and logos are received will go a long way towards having the league build fan bases in all eight of their markets.

FIRST IMPRESSION

It can be argued that the most important time period for the entire league will be in the months of November and December. For all the talk of how much time the league has in preparing for kickoff in February on ABC and Fox, the area where things will really need to be amped up is teams forming and practicing together in the fall. The XFL’s team rosters won’t be in place until Mid-October. Players are expected to be signed during the summer, and then more predominately after NFL cuts in September. This will be followed by the league’s drafting process. There will be close to 700 players signed and then drafted by the league’s teams. The talent will be there, but the most crucial element towards the league achieving a high quality of play is the time that the league’s eight teams have together in preparing for the season.

All indications thus far are that the fall practices for the XFL’s eight teams will be sort of similar to OTA’s. This will all lead into a league wide training camp, January in Houston. Roughly ninety percent of the XFL’s rules are supposed to follow the NFL, but there are areas of difference. Specifically when it comes to a faster 25 second play clock, a potential all 11 communication system, and some other rule tweaks, like the 3-point conversion, the new kickoffs, among other elements.

The eight teams in the XFL need to spend as much time as possible working together in order for the league to present quality football. It takes time for players and coaches to gel with one another. Everyone in a new league is new to another. This doesn’t only extend to the football teams. Prep time will also be needed for the officiating and broadcast teams. There will be several innovations introduced in those areas as well. You want all these elements to go off without a hitch.

The league can’t afford to struggle early on, with what is presented on the field. As is always the case, with new leagues, there will be a curiosity factor in the early going. If the league struggles early on to work out the kinks, they may lose potential viewers who are not impressed with what should be a ready made product come week one. Lack of preparation and planning could hurt all aspects of the teams and ultimately the league’s potential for success and growth.

KEEPING COACHES

One of the things that can disrupt the quality of a football team is losing players to injury. The quality of a team suffers as a result. The same can be said for coaches. Losing quality coaches can hurt a football team, especially if you are very close to the start of your season. The XFL is in a unique spot on the football calendar. As the league prepares to play it’s season in February of 2020, the 2019 NFL and College football seasons start winding down. Late December/January is firing and hiring season for NFL teams and NCAA programs.

As the XFL began the process of hiring coaches in February, they benefited from the fact that most coaching positions in the NFL and NCAA had been filled. So they didn’t have to compete for coaches services with NFL or NCAA teams.

While the XFL has language in player contracts that prevents them from going to the NFL once they are drafted in October (according to agents that were spoken to, on the condition of anonymity), there is no such language in the league’s coaching contracts.

The AAF ran into this issue last winter. Atlanta Legends Head Coach Brad Childress, stepped down right before the Alliance’s season started. He ended up taking a position on the Bears offensive staff. Michael Vick, the Legends coordinator, walked away from the job. Vick’s replacement, Rich Bartel, abruptly resigned two days before the teams opener. San Diego Fleet Offensive Coordinator Jon Kitna, left before the AAF season started to become the QB coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Cadillac Williams left the Birmingham Iron for Auburn. Hal Mumme, the current XFL Dallas offensive coordinator, resigned his position as the offensive coordinator of The Memphis Express, after only two weeks on the job.

Now, in the case of some of the AAF coaches, like Mumme and Vick, some left without a job in waiting. Brad Childress took a while before taking a senior position with Chicago under Matt Nagy. Some AAF coaches saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship. So it was more about the league showing bad warning signs, than better opportunities being presented.

However, what’s to stop an NFL team, from reaching out to Bob Stoops before the XFL season begins. Stoops may not be interested in coaching an NFL team in the fall come the 2020 season, because of family considerations, but if the Cowboys have a poor season in 2019 Jerry Jones might be tempted to make a play for Big Game Bob. It’s a mini doomsday scenario that most XFL supporters do not want to even consider.

There may very well be some XFL assistants that receive offers from NFL and college teams before the XFL season starts in February. It comes with the territory, but it would hurt the league if they were to lose any quality coaches, so close to the season starting. There needs to be contingency plans, in case any of the teams do lose coaches.

FINAL SUMMARY

When it comes to the history of football leagues like the USFL, UFL and NFL Europe, the question of “Where did it all go wrong?” usually has several answers to it. In the case of the AAF and the original XFL, the answer usually leads to the period before their seasons even started. If the current XFL truly plans to learn from the mistakes of the AAF, and their very own past, then, unlike the Alliance, the XFL has to be prepared for the difficulties and pitfalls that await them. If they are, they will make it to year two and beyond.

St. Louis Native Kurt Hunzeker Named President of City’s XFL Team

Stamford, Conn., June 25, 2019 – The XFL today announced that St. Louis native Kurt Hunzeker, most recently the Vice President of Marketing Strategy and Research for Minor League Baseball (MiLB), has been named President of the XFL football team in St. Louis.

The St. Louis XFL team will take the field in February 2020 for its inaugural season and play its home games at The Dome at America’s Center. Jonathan Hayes is the team’s head coach and general manager.

Hunzeker, a University of Missouri graduate, will be responsible for the team’s fan engagement and business operations, including ticket sales, corporate partnerships, marketing, content, communications, community relations, and the game day experience.

“Vince McMahon, Oliver Luck and I are fortunate to have an executive as accomplished as Kurt join the XFL family as President of our St. Louis team,” said Jeffrey Pollack, XFL President and Chief Operating Officer. “He is a dynamic sports business professional who will put his two decades of strategic leadership, creativity and operational experience to work as we reimagine the game and return professional football to St. Louis.”

“I’m thankful for this incredible opportunity to be part of the team that is bringing football back to town,” said Hunzeker. “The XFL team in St. Louis will be the first modern professional football team born in and exclusively for this great city. Each neighborhood is proud to be a unique subset of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, and I’ve been blessed to live in quite a few. I pledge to work with Coach Hayes to make this team an integral part of this terrific, sports-loving community and look forward to bringing reimagined football and fan-centric fun to the Dome in 2020.”

In his position with MiLB, which he held since 2015, Hunzeker identified potential commercial partners and developed brand-building campaigns, fan engagement strategies and innovative strategic marketing plans for the organization and on behalf of 160 teams. During his tenure, he developed MiLB’s 10-year strategic marketing plan, including its first-ever national campaign, “It’s Fun to Be a Fan®”, and the Spanish-language version, “Es Divertido Ser Un Fan™”. He also managed the creation of Copa de la Diversión™ (the “Fun Cup”), a season-long event series celebrating the unique heritage and contributions of each team’s respective Hispanic communities that will include more than half of MiLB’s franchises by 2020.

Hunzeker joined MiLB after spending five years with St. Louis-based Rawlings Sporting Goods as Senior Director of Brand Marketing, where he directed the company’s global brand marketing and media buying efforts. He also spearheaded the integration of sabermetrics into the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process, its expansion into other professional leagues, and the creation of the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award national fan vote initiative.

Hunzeker was an adjunct professor at Maryville University’s John E. Simon School of Business in St. Louis (2014), and served as a member of the St. Louis University Sports Business Advisory Board (2011-2014).

He graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in May 1999 with a Bachelor of Journalism. He currently resides in Tampa, but he and his family will soon return home to the St. Louis area.

XFL Houston hires Jennifer Germer as Marketing Director

Jennifer Germer, the former Vice President of Marketing for the Houston Astros, is now the new marketing director for XFL Houston.

Brian Michael Cooper, XFL Houston team president, today announced his first team business hire in former Houston Astros executive Jennifer Germer who has joined his team as the team’s marketing director. In her new position, Germer will lead XFL Houston’s marketing and community relations including integrated marketing functions, brand marketing, digital and social marketing, fan engagement and activations locally.

Most recently, Germer served as the Chief Operating Officer for RMH Marketing & Media, where she was responsible for streamlining the business and marketing operations strategy and building the operational framework, processes, and technology.

Germer served as the Astros’ Vice President of Marketing from 2008-2011 and Senior Director of Marketing from 2006-2008. Prior to joining the Astros, Germer spent seven seasons working in the marketing departments for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2000-06) and Anaheim Ducks (2000-02).  She also served as the sports marketing and event manager for Elite Racing, Inc.

Germer graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science with an emphasis in sport studies, health, and wellness.

XFL Names Fred Harner to Lead Content and Media Initiatives

The XFL today announced that Fred Harner, most recently Vice President and General Manager of Digital Media at SportsNet New York, has been named Senior Vice President of Content and Media.

Stamford, Conn., June 17, 2019 – The XFL today announced that Fred Harner, most recently Vice President and General Manager of Digital Media at SportsNet New York, has been named Senior Vice President of Content and Media.

In his new position, Harner will lead the XFL’s content strategy and all digital and social media initiatives for the league and its eight teams. He will also work closely with the XFL’s broadcast partners – ESPN and FOX Sports – to help drive tune-in and fan engagement, and manage the development of new programming initiatives.

“Vince McMahon and I are delighted to have a recognized and seasoned media executive like Fred join the XFL and help us offer fans fresh and compelling football content,” said Jeffrey Pollack, XFL President and Chief Operating Officer. “Fred’s career has been marked by two decades of innovation and transformation, and he will help us connect with our fans through new points of access to the game they love.”

“I’m so grateful to Vince McMahon and Jeffrey Pollack for this truly unique opportunity,” said Harner. “Launching and leading digital operations at YES and SNY was both challenging and exhilarating. I see many similarities with the new XFL, and look forward to reimagining the digital aspects of fan engagement as we drive to our February launch.”

As head of SNY’s digital operation from 2007 to 2019, Harner oversaw business development, sales, sponsorship, live streaming, multi-platform content creation, social media, VOD, partner relations, analytics, and digital products. He drove SNY.tv traffic and revenue to all-time highs, and introduced live-streaming of New York Mets games and University of Connecticut basketball games. Harner also led business initiatives with partners such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, NBCU sports properties, MLB Advanced Media, Adobe, Yahoo Sports, Bleacher Report, and The Score.

Before joining SNY, Harner spent six years as the digital media director at the YES Network, helping to launch the most-watched regional sports network in the U.S. and quickly establishing the network’s web site as a prime resource for Yankees fans around the globe. He also spent five years as a senior editor for ABC Sports Online and ESPN.com, managing ABC Sports’ Monday Night Football, Bowl Championship Series, Triple Crown, and Indy 500 digital coverage.

Harner has won multiple N.Y. Sports Emmy and Telly Awards, and was selected to participate in Comcast/NBCU’s exclusive INVEST executive leadership development program. A regular on the speaker circuit, he has appeared on several panels, including the SXSW Technology Conference and BlogWorld & New Media Expo.

Harner earned a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Maine in 1993 and a Master’s in Athletic Administration from Ohio University in 1995.

New York XFL Summer Showcase Recap

Originally unwanted and undrafted by the NFL, Sam Mills became a star in the USFL and eventually became a star in the NFL from 1986 to 1997,

Since last year, there have been several steps taken to set the XFL on course for 2020. From the financial commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars, to the brilliant hire of Oliver Luck, to all the credible coaching and front office hires, to the league’s breakthrough TV deal with ABC, Fox and ESPN, but it wasn’t until these player showcases began, that the XFL starting feeling like a real football league. The league is being built brick by brick. That’s the feeling I got as I was standing on the sidelines of Sprague Field, at Montclair State University. There are still some kinks to iron out, and it’s not quite the well-oiled machine, that it can become, but the foundation has been set up very nicely so far.

As I was watching the players and coaches work together, through several different drills. It was hard not to notice, a huge banner facing the end zone, honoring perhaps Montclair State’s greatest football alum, the late great Sam Mills. It’s rather fitting that on a day, where talented players, who are NFL caliber, but for varying reasons haven’t made it, that the epitome of that type of player would be hovering over the field, in name and in spirit. Sam Mills was a 5’9″ linebacker from Montclair State who ended up becoming a five-time pro bowler in the NFL, had his number retired by the Carolina Panthers, and is in the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. Where he ended up was legendary, but the journey is what made him a legend. No major colleges wanted him because of his size. He went undrafted, signed by the Cleveland Browns, and then cut. Off to the CFL, then cut again. Sam Mills ends up trying out for the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. The rest is history. He ends up not only making the team, but winning two championships and becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the United States Football League.  If not for the USFL, a great player like Sam Mills, may have never become a legend and inspiration, for so many players that followed, and the many who played with and against him. The USFL may not have lasted, but it helped the game of football and its players.  Leagues like this are made for the greater good of football. It’s the thing that XFL CEO Oliver Luck reiterated yet again on Friday, how he is most excited about the fact that the XFL will produce 1,000 football jobs for players, coaches, referees and others.

It was an extremely eventful day in Montclair. There’s so much to digest and go over. A big thanks to Stephanie Rudnick, Lou D’Ermilio, Scott Parker,  Brentan Debysingh, and some many others associated with the XFL, for being so hospitable and friendly. The league rolled out the red carpet for not only the players, but the fans and media members as well. Thanks for letting me annoy Oliver Luck and others with so many questions. It was also a pleasure to meet up with other media members. I had a chance to go down memory lane with longtime sports reporter and broadcaster Peter Schwartz. Peter called XFL games for NY/NJ back in 2001, while I covered the team. We both shared in the differences between the XFL, that was and the XFL that is being realized today. As we watched the great athletes on the field.  Schwartz pointed out the stark differences between what the XFL looks like now, and what it was. He brought up a funny story, about an unnamed Hitmen offensive lineman, that was near death and severely out of shape, in halftime of game one on NBC.  Oh by the way… Darren Rovell is a good guy, and thanks to his 6.41 sec 40 yard dash, I won a side bet. I took the 6.0 over.

It was also great meeting up with other members of the XFL community. Like Alan from the ‘This is The XFL Show’ podcast. The show itself has become a huge hit in XFL circles. So much so that, people in the league office listen to the show at home, while watching their kids. The community is very important. It’s one of the things that really hurt so much about the demise of the AAF, the USFL, and the original XFL. Fans get attached and take real ownership of these types of leagues. They become so deeply invested in it, and end up living and dying with these leagues, similar to how a fan would with his favorite sports team.

There are several different items to go over, from Friday’s Showcase. Let’s start with the players;

There were several standouts on Friday. The league’s football operations department has their work cut out for them, deciding which of these players to sign to XFL contracts. One thing’s for certain, in my view, Hakeem Nicks is going to be a premium player in the XFL Draft come October. That’s if he doesn’t sign on with an NFL team. He showed that, he could still be playing in the NFL. Injuries forced him out, and once a veteran is slotted as a #4 or #5 WR, if he doesn’t bring value on specials. He doesn’t make the team.  I must admit, that I was skeptical when I saw his name on the list of Showcase participants. It’s been a few years since he stepped on a football field, and a few before that, where he produced at a high level. Through no fault of his own. Hakeem was an elite and clutch receiver, when he was healthy. He’s always had a tremendous catch radius and great body control in the air. That was on display on Friday. He looked like a new man. Hakeem was smiling from ear to ear, he was genuinely happy to be on the field working out. He ran all the drills. Hakeem didn’t play the veteran card, and just skip certain drills. He decided to go all in. Where Nicks really shined, was in 1 on 1 drills. It was an overcast day with plenty of wind, and Nicks made some highlight receptions on throws that were off the mark because of it.

While the QB group didn’t have great cache to them. They all performed fairly well. Chattanooga’s Alejandro Bennefield made some great throws. Alek Torgersen looked great.

Joe Callahan also really stood out. The former Division III superstar, who won the Gagliardi trophy at Wesley college, which is the equivalent of the Heisman trophy at that level, Callahan showed great accuracy and ability to throw on the run. He made some big time throws in small windows. It was a very good showing for him.

The best action came in 1 on 1 drills. Several standouts during these sessions. On the receiving side, it was  former AAF star Mekale McKay, Texas Tech receiver De’Quan Bowman, Stony Brook Tight End Connor Davis, Temple Tight End Colin Thompson, amongst others. As far as defensive backs, the speedster Kendall James from Maine looked very good, as did DB’s Max Redfield, Titus Howard and Dante Redwood. In the trenches, some players who stood out were offensive lineman Kirk Barron from Purdue and Andrew Tiller from Syracuse. On the defensive line, Kristjan Sokoli, the former Seahawks draft pick, looked very good coming off an ACL tear, that cost him the 2018 season. You have quite a few players like Sokoli, who are on a mission to salvage their careers.

Andre Williams had a really good showing for himself. The former Doak Walker and Jim Brown award winner, was similar to Hakeem Nicks. He’s been out of the NFL for a couple of years, and had a little extra pep in his step. Missing in action was Dexter McCluster. He was originally advertised for the showcase, I received no official explanation for his absence.

Now let’s get to some news and info. I was able to get 1 on 1 time with XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck, on two separate occasions. and several other top figures within the league. On a side note, here’s hoping that the XFL’s chalk talk session makes it way to social media. It’s a great vehicle for the league to create awareness for what they are attempting to do, to enhance the awareness of the product. It’s sort of like XFL 101, for those who are not up on the league. A lot of what the league is doing, in terms of research and development, is still a work in progress, and will be completed at the Spring League by the end of July. Oliver Luck and Kevin Gilbride were very engaging during the day’s outdoor Chalk Talk session.

In reference to that, expect the league’s official game rules to be released in August. Some of the concepts are nearing the finish line. Specifically, the tiered point system after touchdowns, and the overtime aspect. On that note, one thing that Oliver Luck mentioned was that the league was actually discussing aspects of the tiered extra points, in relation to gambling. You could see how a game could be affected, in terms of the spread, and over/unders with 3-point conversions potentially in play.

On team names. It is a topic every fan wants to know, and that every media member dances around when talking with someone in the league. Everyone in the league is fully aware of how it is the most pressing issue for followers of the XFL. It sounds like team names will be coming in July, and the plan is to unveil them all at once. Nothing finalized yet, but there could be some type of press conference/media event to make the announcement.

I asked Oliver Luck about an official uniform outfitter for the league. There’s nothing close on that front yet. It’s important to note, that while team names and logos will come first. It might take some time for the actual uniforms to be released. The real need for uniforms, will come once the teams are formed and begin practicing. So that could be a hint of a timetable. The league has had preliminary talks with companies about the design for their helmets. Nothing has been finalized on that end either. The footballs that have been displayed thus far, are not the final versions. Most of the players had positive reviews about the prototypes, that have been used at the showcases.

On the back burner, for now, is team schedules. While the entire TV schedule has been released ahead of time. The actual team schedules may take some time to formulate. Depending on the schedule of the league’s 8 venues. Individual ticket sales would most likely coincide with the team schedule release. Also, the XFL also doesn’t anticipate any delays in the retrofitted Globe Life Park for XFL Dallas.

There are two team president hires left for Jeffrey Pollack, the league’s president and COO to make. Pollack has been playing catch up. He came on board with the XFL fairly recently.  He’s the lead on all of these hires. The St. Louis team president hire seems imminent and could be revealed this coming week. The Dallas hire may be the final one. Negotiations are still on-going. On a side note, I met with XFL NY Team President Janet Duch. She was very engaging and seems genuinely excited about the team’s prospects of finding an audience in New York. The original XFL fan in me, pointed out to her that the team that was second in the league in attendance back in 2001, was in fact New York with over 28,000 fans per game. I asked Janet, if the league was close on naming a training facility for XFL NY. She said that they are narrowing down the list to a few choices right now.

The league does plan on having exhibition games in January, as sort of a dress rehearsal for the season. These scrimmages will most likely not be available to the public. The purpose of them is to act as almost a dress rehearsal for the players, coaches, broadcasters and referees.

Just some housekeeping on some items, that most diehard XFL followers know. The eight teams will have 45 player rosters with 7 player practice squads. Team 9 will be formed prior to the start of the XFL season, and it will be a group of players under league contract, that train with a select group of coaches in Arlington Texas, and that stay prepared for when there are injuries or a need from the league’s eight teams. Player contracts will include base salary, pay during training camp, incentives in the form of victory bonuses, and full health benefits. The XFL will begin offering contracts to players in July.

All in all, it was a great experience. I am most excited for the players during this process. Who knows, maybe someday, one of these players will have their banner at the stadium of their alma mater, just like Sam Mills.

XFL Springs into Action Again, Testing Rules, Scouting Players

XFL Springs into Action Again, Testing Rules, Scouting Players

Stamford, Conn., June 12, 2019 – The XFL today announced that it will again partner with The Spring League, an elite professional football development league, to scout talent, test potential rule adjustments, and experiment with potential in-game technologies it as prepares for kick-off in February 2020.

The Spring League (TSL) will take the field with the XFL this summer to conduct two four-day scouting events in Southern California, the first of which will take place June 17-20 at Mission Viejo High School. The second will run July 28-31 at a location to be announced soon.

These events provide players with opportunities to display their ability in front of XFL head coaches and their staffs, and other professional football scouts. At the same time, TSL coaches will work closely with the XFL football operations team to test on-field and rules adjustments the league has developed and may adopt when it launches next year.

“We’re in an important phase of our development and The Spring League gives us the perfect platform to continue our effort to reimagine the game,” said Oliver Luck, XFL Commissioner & CEO. “We had a great experience and learned so much at The Spring League in April, and feel confident that after these next two sessions we’ll have identified a few XFL-caliber players and be closer to finalizing our rules and gameplay.”

“We are excited to be working with the XFL again and further demonstrate our value as both a platform for player development and incubator for rules testing,” said Brian Woods, CEO of The Spring League. “Our summer events will provide additional opportunities for players to be scouted by XFL coaches and scouts in advance of their 2020 launch.”

ABOUT THE XFL The XFL will reimagine football for the 21st century when it kicks off the weekend of February 8-9, 2020, committed to delivering a brisk, fast-paced game, with a fan-centric, innovative, and affordable gameday experience. The inaugural season will launch with teams in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington D.C. Each team will compete with a 45-man active roster over a 10-week regular season with a postseason consisting of two semifinal playoff games and a championship game. Every XFL game – every week – will be nationally televised and easy-to-find for fans coast-to-coast. Starting in February 2020, the XFL will air weekly on ABC and FOX, with games also on ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2. Vince McMahon, XFL Founder and Chairman, is personally funding the new league, and building the XFL with the same commitment and resolve that he has demonstrated building WWE into a global media and sports entertainment powerhouse. For more information, visit XFL.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

ABOUT THE SPRING LEAGUE The Spring League is an elite development league and scouting event for professional football talent. All teams in The Spring League utilize one central location, for both practices and games, allowing NFL scouts, GM’s, and player personnel directors with an opportunity to evaluate players in one setting. Nearly all of the players who participate in The Spring League have spent time on an NFL active, practice, or pre-season roster. Since 2017, over 100 players have been either signed or invited to a camp by an NFL or CFL team. For more information, please visit: https://www.thespringleague.com/.

Media Contact: Stephanie Rudnick – XFL Stephanie.rudnick@xfl.com media@xfl.com

Showing up for the XFL’s Summer Showcases

De’Vante Kincade and the other 799 players that participate in the XFL’s Summer Showcases, are an example of why everyone who loves football, should be rooting for the XFL to succeed.

The drive starts for a young quarterback, who is trying to score big. The sweltering heat in Texas is upon him. His blood is boiling, nerves are jumping and his heart is racing at an all-time high. He’s been waiting for this opportunity his whole life. This might be his last chance to finally prove himself…. then all of a sudden, the drive comes to an abrupt halt. His car breaks down on his way to TDECU Stadium in Houston.

With time running out on the clock, the young quarterback is forced to call an audible. His car engine has overheated. It’s time to abandon the game plan, call roadside assistance, and immediately head to the stadium on foot. He makes it just in time to check in, and hit the field to showcase his ability.

This is the story of Grambling State Quarterback De’Vante Kincade, the former 4-star recruit out of Skyline High School in Dallas. De’Vante was invited to the XFL’s first showcase in Dallas on Friday. With six quarterbacks at the showcase, Kincade was told that the Showcase was full, and was asked to return to another Showcase, taking place the next day in Houston.

From day one, it’s been that kind of journey for De’Vante Kincade. He has had so many twists and turns, that it’s no surprise his car would break down on the way to this moment. As a 4-star recruit, Kincade was recruited heavily by several schools coming out of High School. One of the coaches that recruited him was current XFL Houston Head Coach June Jones. Kincade was offered a scholarship by Jones and SMU. De’Vante and June would cross paths one more time before Kincade ended up throwing passes at TDECU on Saturday morning. More on that in a bit… Out of high school, De’Vante would end up signing with Ole Miss. He never got the opportunity to lead that program. He ended up mostly on the sidelines for three years. Kincade then transferred to Grambling State, where he ended up being the two-time Offensive Player of the year in the SWAC. In two seasons as a starting quarterback, Kincade led the Tigers to a 22-2 record, including a 16-0 mark in conference play. Kincade won two straight SWAC championships, and won a national championship. De’Vante amassed 5,297 yards through the air with 54 touchdowns to just eight interceptions.

After the 2017 Collegiate season ended, Kincade hoped that his last two years would earn him a shot at being a pro quarterback. He was anxious to prove himself as a quarterback, and didn’t want to switch positions. Measuring in at only 5’11 and 198 pounds. Kincade ended up not being selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. He did however, receive a post draft workout with his hometown Dallas Cowboys, but again nothing panned out. Looking for an opportunity and anywhere to prove himself, Kincade signed with the Maine Mammoths of the National Arena League in May of last year. De’Vante ended up not playing a single game for them. Two months later, up north in Canada, less than a week after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded Johnny Manziel to the Montreal Alouettes. Kincade was brought in to work out for then Hamilton Head Coach June Jones. Kincade ended up impressing enough to sign a contract with the Tiger-Cats. He would end up on the Ticats practice squad for the 2018 season. There were quality QB’s ahead of him that had already earned their spots on the roster, like former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli, who has become a star in Canada. There wasn’t an opportunity for De’Vante to get on the field. This past May, Kincade was released by Hamilton. Once again, being sent back to square one. The XFL came calling with an invite. One in which, he almost missed out on twice.

Kincade and the other 799 players that participate in the XFL’s Summer Showcases, are an example of why everyone who loves football, should be rooting for the XFL to succeed. There is no guarantee that De’Vante earns himself a contract, but there’s no question that his heart and drive are good enough for one.

The XFL opened up their doors officially this past week to football players, with two Showcases taking place in the heart of Dallas and Houston. The league began its first phase of working out and potentially signing players. All the players that participated in these showcase workouts have unique stories.

There’s former NFL Running Back Christine Michael, a 5-star recruit, former Walter Payton award winner coming out of high school and then bounced around the NFL, making only nine starts, and only carried the ball 254 times in the pros for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns. There’s 25 year old rookie, the undrafted BYU Quarterback Tanner Mangum. A 4-star recruit who shined when given the chance, but who ultimately ended up splitting time at QB with the likes of, Saints jack of all trades Taysom Hill. There’s also former Air Force Wide Receiver Jalen Rowell. The 6’3 220 pound wideout led the nation in yards per catch. On his way to being drafted into the NFL, his draft eligibility was denied, and Rowell had to finish two years of service before being able to play pro football now. There are also former high end NFL draft picks like Kony Ealy. There are so many unique stories and players that took part, and that will take part in the XFL’s Showcases.

Making an NFL roster is extremely difficult. As documented here in the past, a recent NCAA study showed that only 1.6 percent of all college football players make the NFL. There are thousands of draft eligible players every year that do not get to continue on their pro careers in the states. A simplified look at an NFL roster composition can be seen like this: Every team has 22 starters, 11 on offense and 11 on defense. If you factor in 22 backups to those starters. That brings you to 44 players. You then add three starting specialists per team, a kicker, punter and a long snapper. The total is now 47. That leaves only six spots remaining. All NFL teams carry more than just two running backs, usually four or five. All NFL teams carry more than just four receivers, it can be as many as seven or even eight. This extends to the defensive side as well. Most teams carry more than ten defensive backs. So teams mix and match, doing a little give and take at certain positions to get to their final 53. In what has become a growing roster trend in the NFL, some teams will carry only two quarterbacks, just so that they can fill out their rosters. Sometimes a player, who doesn’t have front line starter ability, will make a roster based on the roles that they fill on special teams. This will come at the expense of players who can be starters, but that don’t fill specific roles as backups or on special teams. A fifth WR has to be able to either bring value as a returner or on special teams coverage, or he will not make the team. There’s no reason to even dress the player if he doesn’t bring game day value. Veterans lose jobs every year in the NFL, at the rate of a few hundred every year. Why? It’s simple. 300 to 400 new rookies make the league every year, and take their spots. The average NFL career is four years. Two reasons for that, one is injuries, the other is that a good number of NFL players don’t see their second or third contracts. Players are constantly being replaced. They come into the league at 21 or 22 years old and by the time, they are in their late 20’s. They are out. The rosters are constantly turning over every year. A lot of quality college players are not getting into the league, and a lot of quality players that did make it into the league, don’t end up lasting long.

The XFL’s goal, as stated by its Director of Player Personnel Eric Galko, is to sign players they feel are NFL players that, for varying circumstances, are not in the league. Players that should be playing in the NFL, or are NFL caliber players. A lofty goal perhaps, but the right mindset to have when trying to put together a pro football league. There are valid arguments for or against a second pro football league existing. Usually the most valid points against one existing like the XFL, is the financial viability of it. Whether or not, the quality of it can get the backing of the viewing public. However, those who are opposed to it, because they see a second league as a “place for rejects”, are out of touch with the realities of how many quality football players are out there. Even if a narrow minded football fan were to dismiss the thousands of draft eligible college football players every year that don’t make the NFL, and just stick with Division 1 football. There are close to a thousand draft eligible players from that group alone every year. The percentage of those elite college players from elite college programs that make the NFL every year is very small. Only 254 players get drafted every year. Then there’s the thousands who are undrafted. For those who question the quality of the undrafted. Take a good long look at NFL rosters. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there are more undrafted players in the NFL right now than there are first and second-rounders combined. That means there is value in the players that are overlooked. The real argument against a spring football league, is really, Can it survive and thrive? In my mind, there’s no doubt that it should exist. The players and the football ecosystem needs it.

XFL Reveals 2020 Ball Candidates

The XFL is testing a variety of game ball options.

As part of their Summer Showcase series, the XFL revealed a selection of ball options they are testing for the upcoming inaugural season.

The testing at the Summer Showcase is meant to gather feedback from players and coaches.

The balls being tested are brown, with white laces, and all feature a stylized purple and white “X” on each end. The difference between the balls seem to be the texture of the ball. There is no indication as to the manufacturer of the test balls.

The new ball design was originally shown in a Twitter post and then discussed in the XFLBoard forums.

The balls being tested are brown, with white laces, and all feature a stylized purple and white “X” on each end.

The idea of the XFL having a markedly unique football hearkens back to 2001, and the original black and red XFL ball. That ball was loved by fans, and hated by detractors to the league, even going so far as claiming the ball was hard to handle and throw. In fact, former XFL Quarterback and MVP Tommy Maddox has gone on record to say the original XFL ball was “very hard to grip and throw but they made adjustments to it and it became very easy to throw.”

Clearly, we can see how the 2020 version of the XFL is actively testing what may become their signature ball. Let’s hope they get it right, and the 2020 ball is just as loved as the 2001 version.

 

Josh Bullock named President of XFL team in Tampa Bay

Josh Bullock, former Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at the Tampa Bay Rays, has been named President of the XFL football team in Tampa Bay.

Stamford, Conn., June 3, 2019 – The XFL announced today that Josh Bullock, former Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at the Tampa Bay Rays, has been named President of the XFL football team in Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Bay XFL team will take the field in February 2020 for its inaugural season and will play its home games at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Marc Trestman is the team’s head coach and general manager.

Bullock, who most recently served as the Senior Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Director of Development at the University of South Florida, will be responsible for the team’s fan engagement and business operations, including ticket sales, corporate partnerships, marketing, content, communications, community relations, and the game day experience.

“Vince McMahon, Oliver Luck and I are thrilled that Josh has joined the XFL as our president in Tampa Bay,” said Jeffrey Pollack, XFL President and Chief Operating Officer. “His experience with the Rays and USF, and his incredible network across the region, will help set us up for success on and off the field, on game day, and in the community every day.”

“I am excited to join the XFL and play a role in bringing more great football to Tampa Bay,” said Bullock. “The opportunity to help start a new football franchise was something I couldn’t pass up. I look forward to working alongside Coach Trestman and his staff to build-out our team, and to engage with our community, grow our fan base and create an experience that’s truly authentic to Tampa Bay and the region.”

Bullock joined USF Athletics in March 2018 as Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Development after more than seven years with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he served as Vice President, Corporate Partnerships. Before arriving in Tampa, Bullock served as general manager for ISP Sports (now IMG College) at UCF (2007-2010), and as associate general manager for ISP Sports at Virginia Tech (2004-2007).

In 2012, Bullock completed coursework at Leadership Tampa, an intensive nine-month program sponsored by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce that introduces attendees to major facets of the greater Tampa community, and he served as the Chair for the Class of 2018.

Bullock is a University of Kentucky graduate, where he served as Athletic Relations Coordinator for Football (1997-2000). He lives in Westchase, Fla. with his wife Christie, daughter, Anna, and son, James.

XFL Establishes Health Advisory Committee

Veteran MLB Athletic Trainer Daniel Wright Named as Vice President of Health and Safety.

Stamford, Conn., June 3, 2019 – The XFL has established a health advisory committee comprised initially of experts in neurology, mental health, and orthopedics to support the health and wellness of XFL players.

The founding members of the XFL’s health advisory committee are Dr. Julian Bailes; Dr. Larry Lemak; and Dr. Claudia Reardon, representing the fields of neurosurgery, orthopedics and mental health, respectively. Dr. Bailes will serve as Chief Medical Advisor.

The league also appointed Daniel Wright, most recently the Head Athletic Trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers, as Vice President of Health and Safety. Wright, a member of the National Athletic Trainer’s Association for more than 30 years, will work with the health advisory committee to prepare and maintain the XFL’s health, wellness and safety policies, procedures and protocols. Wright will also hire, supervise, and evaluate the team athletic trainers.

“The health and safety of our players is an important focus on our path to reimagine football and deliver a great product to fans when we kick off in February 2020,” said XFL Commissioner & CEO Oliver Luck. “Putting in place the right experts and medical professionals is key. Our health advisory committee will work closely with our football operations department to create protocols and build best practice guidelines that put player health and safety at the forefront of everything we do.”

Dr. Bailes is considered a leading authority in neurosurgery, traumatic brain injury and research, and neurological sports medicine. He is Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem and Co-Director of the Northshore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Il. Dr. Bailes served as team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 years, and the NCAA Division I for 15 years. He is a member of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee, NFLPA Mackey White Health and Safety Committee, and Chairman of the Pop Warner Football Medical Advisory Committee. He is a board-certified neurosurgeon, earned bachelor of science and doctor of medicine degrees from Louisiana State University, and received neurosurgery training at Northwestern University and the Barrow Neurological Institute.

Dr. Lemak is the Founder of Lemak Health, a center of excellence in orthopedics and primary care sports medicine. He serves on Pop Warner Football’s Medical Advisory Committee and the Alabama High School Athletic Association. Dr. Lemak founded the National Center for Sports Safety in 2001 and the Alabama Sports Foundation in 1996. He also served as Medical Director for Major League Soccer for 20 years, was a founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute, and was the Medical Director of NFL Europe League for more than 15 years. Dr. Lemak is a graduate of The University of Alabama Medical School and is a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and the Arthroscopy Association of North America.

Dr. Reardon is a Board-certified psychiatrist specializing in sports psychiatry and an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Psychiatry.  She clinically works as the consulting sports psychiatrist to the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department at UW-Madison’s University Health Services.

Dr. Reardon has served on the International Society for Sports Psychiatry Board of Directors since 2010, currently as its Secretary and Education Committee Chair.  She also serves as the sole psychiatrist on the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Dr. Reardon chairs a workgroup on Mental Illness in Elite Athletes for the International Olympic Committee.  She has published and presented widely on many sports psychiatry related topics, and is Co-Editor of the book “Clinical Sports Psychiatry: An International Perspective.” She completed her undergraduate and medical school degrees as well as her psychiatry residency training, serving as Chief Resident, at the University of Wisconsin.

Wright has been an athletic trainer since 1985. He recently spent 18 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, first as the Assistant Athletic Trainer and Conditioning Coordinator (2001-10), then as the Head Athletic Trainer (2011-18). In addition to the Brewers, Wright has held athletic training positions at either the minor or major league-level for the Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants. From 1995 to 2008, he was Co-Owner and President of FitLife Health Systems, Inc., a business that provided athletic training, injury rehabilitation, and performance, fitness and conditioning services. Wright earned a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education (1984) and Master of Science in Clinical Health and Sports Medicine (1987) from the University of Oregon.