As the old saying goes, You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The return of the XFL is flying against the face of that. The revival of this brand is one of the most improbable and unlikely in all of sports and entertainment.
A reboot is common, but it’s usually reserved for properties that have had some sort of initial success. While the original XFL made an impact and changed the way all football is broadcast and viewed today, there’s no denying that the original XFL was a flop. The branding played a part in it, as did the quality of football, which was rushed and poorly executed. It wasn’t just the substance of the league that failed, the overall presentation of what it stood for, did as well.
The original XFL was NBC’s direct broadcasting replacement for the NFL, and the league bragged as if it was going to be better than the now 100 year old NFL. In hindsight, that expectation level was absurd for what was a first year startup league. The league was thrust into weekly prime-time network television and was asked to come close to duplicating what the NFL and other established sports leagues were already doing. The hype and marketing did just that for one week, but the quality of the product wasn’t ready for prime-time initially and it died on arrival for most of the viewing public.
In most cases with reboots, a once popular entity is updated for the modern era. The brand name of these reboots have name value, so producers think they can recapture old magic with these brands or maybe even make it better. The idea is bringing back classics for a whole new generation that may not be familiar with them, and take an old trusted formula and make it new again. It doesn’t always work out, and here’s hoping that nearly perfect classics like Back to The Future, Scarface, Goodfellas or The Godfather never ever get the reboot treatment.
The XFL is the opposite of the traditional reboot. It may still borrow the method of innovation like the original XFL 1.0 had, but the idea is to get it right this time. Despite the football world and it’s players needing a second pro football league, outside of diehard football fans who love this concept, no one was clamoring for the return of the XFL. The 2020 version is supposed to be the complete opposite of the original. It’s supposed to be structured and presented in a more traditional and updated fashion, with the sole emphasis being football.
As we edge closer to the reveal of the XFL’s eight team identities. This is where the new impression of the league itself is shaped. The XFL has made all the right moves thus far in methodically building up their league brick by brick. The football hires have been a reflection of that. The front office hires for the league and the individual teams have been outstanding. The process of testing game rules and broadcast technologies with ABC, Fox and ESPN has been a measured one. The latest phase of testing with The Spring League in California was just completed. The XFL’s eight talent showcases were executed and organized so well by the league’s football operations department. The XFL has full insurance and coverage for all of it’s players and a health advisory committee headed by famed Doctor Julian Bailes. So far so good, but the team identities hold the key to helping change the league’s perception.
Look no further than social media for what people think of the XFL brand when it comes to team identities. If any pro or college sports team debuts a new look, the go to criticism of any new concept is that it “looks like an XFL team.” When the New York Jets debuted their new uniforms this past spring, this was one of the knocks against their new look. The XFL hasn’t had any new team names or uniforms since 2001. That’s 18 years ago, and yet any perceived failure at branding is still associated to them. If a uniform or logo is panned as being ugly or second rate, it is instantly pegged as an XFL concept.
There is great pressure on the current XFL brain trust to get the team branding right. Their eight team identities will still face criticism even if there are no offensive team names. Team branding is very subjective, so there will always be people opposed to, or who are critical of a team name, but the XFL will face harsher criticism than most due to it’s history. It’s all because of the negative reputation and perception attached to their original league.
The original XFL team names and logos flew against the face of traditional sports teams. It was a group mostly of anti-establishment brands that were purposely positioned as being against political correctness. Some people may expect the current XFL to adopt their original branding and go the “Meth Gators” route. With that being stated, while most of XFL 1.0’s brands were certainly out there, the Las Vegas Outlaws was a great brand with the perfect combination of colors, logo and uniforms. The league would do just fine if they can recapture the perfection of that brand. Lost in the fact that “He Hate Me” was written on the back of the jersey, was how good those jerseys actually looked.
Secondary football leagues have always been about redemption, but it’s usually been stories for the players mostly. The overwhelming story arc of how no one else gave these players a chance, these leagues are usually about former high round draft picks trying to redeem themselves and resurrect their careers. It’s also about the forgotten college football all stars who never got a chance to shine in the pros. The stories then extend to the overlooked virtual unknowns who want to prove themselves worthy of being pro-football players.
Secondary pro-football leagues from the past, like the USFL, XFL and NFL Europe, have been a proving ground for the likes of Sam Mills, Tommy Maddox, Kurt Warner and many others. XFL 2020 will have those stories and then some, but what makes the current XFL different is that the league itself is sharing with the players the same exact story of redemption. The proving ground is not just for the players but for the league itself.
Outside of the actual founder and funder of the XFL in Vince McMahon, and a few assistant coaches who actually played in the original league, the 2020 version of the XFL has a whole new set of executives and coaches attached to the league. Even with a brand new cast, the league is still fighting the battles that the original XFL lost. The biggest battle is in how the overall league is viewed, treated and perceived. It’s a brand new league with a brand new vision trying to erase the mistakes of the old league’s branding.
The process leading into February 8th 2020, when the league premieres on ABC and Fox, will play a big part in changing the overall outlook of the league. Despite being a startup league, the XFL will have a short leash with the public. They have to make the right moves now in order to present a quality product right out the gate. These next six months will dictate how well the league’s second first impression goes. The league is giving itself a second chance. There won’t be a third.
Mike was one of the original XFLBoard.com Team Reporters in 2001. We welcome him back to the XFLBoard and look forward to his insightful contributions.