Everything about the XFL thus far has been about the slow build. The league has been methodical in every respect since January of 2018. Now, we are fastly approaching the start of the 2020 season, and the hype for the league from the mainstream media has been slowly building momentum. It helps that Fox, ABC, and ESPN are the league’s partners, but in recent days, you get the sense that more media outlets are finally starting to catch on to what the XFL has built so far. There hasn’t been a huge promotional push yet by the league, and that’s certainly on the horizon. Having social media as a tool to build has been useful for the XFL, but you get the sense that some media and local outlets may be coming along for the ride.
It wasn’t like this back in 2001. There I was, in my early 20’s up in a press box at what was then known as Giants Stadium, and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen were playing the Memphis Maniax. It was like being invited to some exclusive club. I had followed and written about sports since high school, and now I was getting a chance to cover a football game with members of the New York press.
Mark Nelson at XFLBoard.com had gotten me this opportunity. I didn’t even care that the league didn’t have my name when I showed up at the stadium. I was just a young guy with “XFL Board” on my media pass. I knew that the XFL was on shaky ground as a league, but my enthusiasm had not died down as a result. I wasn’t sure how my experience at the game would go. I felt like there was a chance that I wouldn’t fit in with all the seasoned media professionals in that press box. At this point, the XFL was dead and buried by the mainstream media. The league was on ignore mode. Even still, I figured that the media members who showed up for the game would match my enthusiasm. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
None of the major news outlets in the tri-state area bothered to cover or show up for the game. The Post, Daily News, Newsday, The Ledger, and others failed to show. No one from CBS, Fox, ABC, or any of the local affiliates showed. There were just a handful of media members on hand, and I was one of them. The other members of the media were there on assignment, and it showed. The only thing they were interested in was the catering. It didn’t stop me from doing what I was on a mission to do, which was to cover the game and the teams. Only one media member joined me in the locker room to interview the players and coaches. The XFL had invited me to a party that no one else was interested in attending.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of media interest. After all, the XFL never had newspaper articles written about their games or players. Very few, if any, sports shows aired league highlights. The only place where the games were written about or highlighted was fan sites. That’s where the best followers of the league resided.
Flash forward, and the same is true to the present day. The most faithful followers of the current XFL reside on social media. The league has a loyal and dedicated group of followers that have been strong advocates for the league. It showed on the day of the XFL’s rules release. XFL CEO/Commissioner Oliver Luck and the Head of Officiating Dean Blandino made the media rounds on several TV and radio outlets. During Luck and Blandino’s rules related conference call it was no surprise that the majority of questions came from league dedicated sites like XFL Board, XFL Plus, XFL News Hub, XFL Chalk Talk, XFL Newsroom, and several others. The XFL has taken notice of these loyal fan dedicated members. So much so that ‘This is the XFL Show’ has now become an official podcast for the XFL.
There’s no denying that having all of these loyal and diehard supporters as your base is a great thing. However, the hard truth is that the XFL’s best chance for success hinges on the mainstream media. Alternative pro leagues have had a myriad of issues in the past. Funding and profitability have been the two most significant forms of kryptonite against them.
There are specific metrics that everyone tracks, and they are ticket sales and ratings. However, the root of all evil that ails upstart leagues is the lack of attention. The mainstream media can make or break entities by dismissing or ignoring them. The XFL has the funding and great business partners in Disney and Fox. Those outlets can help the league get the exposure it needs at the start but for the XFL to experience growth. The mainstream media is going to have to get on board eventually and follow the league’s games and players. It’s not an easy task for the XFL to accomplish. They’ll have to earn it by presenting a quality product.
Part of the lure of the original XFL was that it was anti-mainstream. It’s also what helped seal its fate. It was a radical sports league that became enemy of the state by puffing its chest out and spitting on tradition. The 2020 version of the XFL is nothing like its original counterpart. The league won’t make it long term if the mainstream sports media doesn’t get on board. Football leagues are too expensive to be niche products. It’s why the majority of them fail on a grand scale. The USFL, AAF, and even NFL Europe are clear examples of this. Media attention and interest is what drives ticket sales and ratings. It’s why the original XFL was such a smash hit for only one week. The current XFL is throwing a big fancy party on Saturday, February 8th. Will the sports media accept the invite?
Mike Mitchell is a freelance sports writer, analyst, and a general lover of all football. Mike was one of the original XFLBoard.com Team Reporters in 2001, reporting on the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. We have welcomed him back to the XFLBoard and love his ongoing insightful contributions.