XFL Prepares for Inaugural Weekend

(30 January 2001) — In a press conference held on Tuesday, Chairman of NBC Sports, Dick Ebersol, started with “the FUN starts on Saturday!”

XFL will kick off it’s first season on Saturday 3 February with the NY/NJ Hitmen at the Las Vegas Outlaws live from Sam Boyd Stadium. The best part is, the game is sold out.

The XFL has met with a major landmark with the inaugural game between the Las Vegas Outlaws and the NY/NJ Hitmen being reported as sold-out. The XFL is also well on its way to exceeding an original goal in ticket sales with over 500,000 tickets now sold league-wide. The original XFL business plan called for 800,000 tickets sold by season’s end. Other inaugural weekend games have also experience high ticket sales: The San Francisco Demons have sold 33,000, the Orlando Rage have sold 25,000 and the Birmingham Bolts have over 20,000 sold. At this point in time, the XFL has also sold over 70% of its television advertising.

What can XFL fans expect to see this weekend?

XFL fans can expect a varied style of play, and maybe a few surprises thrown in for good measure. “The LA Xtreme is going to be wide-open, Orlando will be too,” Dick Butkus, XFL Director of Competition, commented, “Memphis will rely on Saalam who is having a great camp. Chicago will rely on a tough running game. Some of the rules will entice some of the teams to do some outrageous things that wouldn’t normally be expected.”

As for the level of play Dick Butkus is optimistic. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a Kurt Warner pop up, maybe a quarterback, who knows, maybe a running back or lineman.”

Many other innovations will be unveiled on the inaugural NBC broadcast.

Dick Ebersol commented that there will be an “awful lot of interesting stuff” on an XFL broadcast. “Perhaps the most unique thing about the telecast will be the ability to be inside the game”, Ebersol said. “The game on Saturday night will not only have the sky-cam which will fly a camera over the field.” Ebersol added, “We will also have cameras on the field during the game, one behind the defense and one on the offensive side of the field.”

The XFL will use two camera operators on the field during the game. The cameramen will wear helmets and will use cameras that will also feature a special viewfinder where the camera operator can have a better view of the field and the players around him. The camera operators are also reported to be as fit as “world class athletes”. Apparently it takes a lot of energy to cover a game. There will be no sound people on the field during the game. More than sixteen players will be miked during any given game. Sound feeds will be mixed into both the telecast and throughout the stadium sound system. Most live sound feeds will be on a six second delay.

Also, as you may have heard, the XFL had practiced a “ball scramble” to replace the traditional coin toss. Instead of the regular coin toss, the ball was to be placed at midfield and have each team line up in their respective ends. The first team to recover the ball, after a whistle is blown, was to have choice of possession and end.

Dick Butkus, XFL Director of Competition, has cast some doubt on the new “coin-toss” format, and has commented that the XFL has not yet decided to use it. There is some question as to how the new format coin-toss will play out over the long run, and whether this new format will just be a race between the teams two speediest receivers.

The league will decide over the next two days whether the new style “coin toss” will be used.

— Mark Nelson – XFLBoard.com

XFL Gets the Cold Shoulder From Mainstream Sports Sites

Repost: Wall Street Journal

David Sweet – Wall Street Journal

It wasn’t the kind of coverage the XFL expected.

In the Jan. 10 San Jose Mercury News, a report bellowed that a “runaway two-ton blimp” promoting the new football league crashed into an Oakland restaurant.

The XFL hopes to persuade sports news sites it’s worthy of crash coverage — as in helmets colliding when the league kicks off Feb. 3.

Burdened by staffing woes in a troubled dot-com environment and curious to see if fans and sponsors embrace football World-Wrestling-Federation-style, sites are yawning at the blustery upstart.

“I don’t see us spending a lot of staff hours on this,” says George Knue, senior editor of ChicagoSports.com, whose coverage area includes the XFL’s Chicago Enforcers. “I’ve yet to receive my first e-mail complaining about [preseason] lack of coverage.”

Mr. Knue, who admits employee cutbacks will affect coverage, will repurpose Enforcers’ news from the site’s print partner, the Chicago Tribune. The fledgling team will share a section online with the woebegone Bears of the National Football League.

Though brimming with staff writers, CBS SportsLine.com won’t immediately assign one to the XFL. The site’s message to the league: Prove yourself.

“It will be treated much like the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League, but with a keen eye out for developments,” notes Joe Ferreira, vice president of programming for SportsLine.com.

ESPN.com editor John Marvel believes the XFL warrants fewer stories than women’s college basketball.

“They’ve done an interesting job in generating some early buzz, but ultimately it will come down to the product on the field,” says Mr. Marvel, who plans to post results, schedules, standings and wire-written game stories. “If the product stinks, it has no chance of succeeding.”

Coverage factors would seem to favor the XFL. Traditionally the grimmest sports month, February is a wasteland sandwiched between NFL playoffs and March Madness. Whereas newspapers face space crunches, real estate is limitless on the Web.

The XFL, co-owned by the WWF and General Electric Co.’s NBC Sports, is the first new professional football league created since the Internet exploded. Claiming the NFL is dull, the XFL — composed of eight teams — will eliminate the fair-catch rule on the field and encourage cheerleaders to date players off it.

Says John Rawlings, editorial director of the Sporting News Online: “In some instances people in our business are dismissing it [the XFL] because of the WWF-type hoopla. That would be a mistake.”

Embracing the XFL is MSNBCSports.com, the Web arm of NBC Sports. (The network will televise XFL games on Saturday nights.)

Already on the site, players extol the league’s differences with the NFL via audio. A full array of statistics, expert analysis and interactive elements will be introduced in February, according to editor in chief Merrill Brown.

“We will treat it as a major sport,” says Mr. Brown, who acknowledges coverage will be influenced by the NBC relationship. “There will be lots of interest in the new league, I’m sure.”

Other editors, though, doubt fans will rush to mainstream sites for XFL fodder. Mr. Knue compares Chicago’s Enforcers to minor-league teams, such as the International Hockey League’s Timberwolves.

“When we had Wolves’ stuff on our site, no one looked at it,” says Mr. Knue, who notes the team draws decent crowds. “We couldn’t justify doing it. It drives the newspaper guy in me crazy to say things like that.”

Lack of significant coverage on mainstream sports venues — which attract tens of millions of unique visitors monthly — may simply boost XFL.com’s growing presence. In December, XFL.com drew 342,000 unique visitors, only 2,000 fewer than Major League Baseball’s long-established site, according to Media Metrix.

Sports news sites reserve the right to take a second look. If fans and sponsors hop on board, so will dot-com venues.

“We will immediately step up our coverage [in that case],” says SportsLine.com’s Mr. Ferreira.

Until then, XFL news may pop up on sites as comic relief.

Last week, ESPN.com’s Page 2 posed the question: “Who Crashed the XFL Blimp?” Everyone from New York Yankee Jose Canseco to aging Utah center Olden Polynice stood accused of steering the dirigible to disaster.

Mr. Polynice’s suggested alibi surprised no one. “Could have taken out blimp easier by shooting free throws from the ground,” noted ESPN.com.

XFL Training Camp Cuts

XFL Training Camp Cuts

Birmingham Thunderbolts: 
Waived, CB, Carlos Jones
Waived, RB, Jesse Haynes
Waived, TE, Bryan Arndt
Waived, CB, Raphael Ball
Waived, WR, Chris Ortiz

Las Vegas Outlaws: 
Waived, RB, Leroy Collins
Waived, DT, Tom Degei
Waived, WR, Cedric Tillman
Waived, LB, Troy Dumas
Waived, DT, Bryant Shaw
Waived, CB, Brian Gray
Waived, LB, Julius Jackson
Waived, FB, Carlo Joseph

Orlando Rage: 
Waived, K, Darren Alcorn
Waived, CB, Damon Mason
Waived, RB, Isiah Stoker
Waived, TE, Vince Marrow
Waived, LB, Kenneth Sanders
Waived, WR Anthony Rodgers
Waived, DT, Brad Keeney

Memphis Maniax: 
Waived, DT, Mac Tuiaea
Waived, S, Barry Wilburn
Waived, CB, Tarig Holman
Waived, LB, Jeff Kerr
Waived, G, Craig Moore
Waived, DE, Nate Bell
Waived, WR, Kevin Cooper
Waived, FB, Jeremy Scruggs
Waived, LB, Jim Emanuel

New York/ New Jersey Hitmen: 
Waived, WR, Sean Love
Waived, TE, Marlon Chambers
Waived, QB, Kevin Mason
Waived, LB, Bronzell Miller
Waived, LB, Nakia Reddick,
Waived, RB, Malcolm Thomas
Waived, DT, Nate Williams
Waived, WR, James Battle