Future XFL expansion: Rooted in talent before TV

A picture-perfect Saturday afternoon at Dignity Health Sports Park was the backdrop of the LA Wildcats’ XFL home opener. (Credit: XFL.com)

Two weeks into the season and discussions are running rampant on how successful (or not) the XFL has been so far in its infancy. Media engagement, TV rating analysis, and comparison to previous spring football leagues is swirling about.

Expansion is an exciting and engaging topic. The back and forth between media and fans about why city A would be better than B is fun conversation and shows the excitement the league is generating. But expansion may be farther away than conversations lead on.  While there are plenty of encouraging signs for this league compared to leagues past, the overall approach from the XFL has been focused around pacing itself and getting things right.

The XFL Approach

From the announcement of the reincarnated XFL, January 25, 2018, to the kickoff in game one, February 8, 2020, there was over a two-year lead time.

The short-lived Alliance of American Football, or AAF, was announced more than two months after the XFL and kicked off their league less than 11 months after that. The AAF infamously closed its doors mid-way through its first season and the league in total only lasted for 13 months.

True to their approach, the XFL stuck with their timeline not succumbing to the pressure of a rival league.

During the more than two years the XFL spent establishing the foundation of the league, they strategically navigated the sporting industry to anchor themselves with prominent industry names. A key move by the league, at that point in time mostly by XFL founder Vince McMahon, is the hiring of Oliver Luck. Luck made his mark in the college football scene where he was part of the first playoff selection committee and was an executive vice president for regulatory affairs. With Luck, the XFL have themselves an experienced executive leading and navigating this venture.

One of the biggest praises and early successes for the XFL is the TV deal they signed with ABC/ESPN and Fox. These two widely recognized sport broadcasting names bring football onto cable and popular sports channels. Their background in NFL/NCAA coverage is a welcomed experienced partner.

Viewership through two weeks has benefited from all the above. The XFL is a more established product on two widely recognizable networks.

XFL

AAF

Week 1

3.118

2.900

Week 2

2.057

0.622

*numbers in millions of viewers

In the XFL, teams are well distributed geographically in major metropolitan areas. In contrast to the AAF where teams were more condensed and questionably excluded the populated Midwest and East Coast. All but one of the XFL teams, the St. Louis BattleHawks, share a city with a current NFL team. It is no coincidence the eight selected XFL cities already have strong professional football fan bases. This move highlights their strategy to garner support in planning for success.

We’re reaching the point where the XFL and AAF can [finally] stopped being compared. The XFL continues to differentiate itself from other spring leagues. Viewership is bound to fluctuate. Remember those critical of support now, they aren’t helping the league grow but let’s see if they want in on the action when it does.

Expansion in Due Time

A common talking point for an XFL expansion timeline is at the expiration of the current TV deal (estimated around 2021 or 2022). The XFL isn’t making money on the current deal but also isn’t spending any either; this allows them to focus capital resources more towards the product itself. If you’re not already familiar, TV deals are a substantial source of revenue in sports. Until the XFL can start making money across the board, especially on the TV side, expansion is unlikely.

While this argument is certainly a factor, I don’t see it as the end-all-be-all.

More importantly, the quality of football the league can produce will be the quintessential factor in determining the fate of the XFL; whether the league will be a long-term success or another failed attempt at a spring football league.  The league seems to have the approach of ensuring a stable foundation before advancing to the next step. Seen with the paced approach from the announcement of the league to first kick, the XFL cares about the quality of the product.

Viewers want to watch good football, good football means more viewers, more viewers mean more TV network interest, more TV interest means more revenue for the league, and more revenue means an opportunity for growth.

Again, the XFL’s preparation indicates the league is interested about the quality of the product.

Through two weeks, players across the league are starting to establish themselves as top talent. Should this talent find success in the NFL, football players around the nation will take note. There is talent out there that could play for the XFL but is currently is not for a variety of reasons. Since the start of the season, three notable CFL players have signed with the XFL. Seeing the opportunity this league could create may entice fringe NFL players and overlooked guys from college to consider joining to league to try and get in on the action.

The pool of potential talent is only moderately tapped. If the XFL can open the flood gates of talent, then this is when the league will truly be poised for expansion. Without a nine team talent surplus, expansion risks putting a lower quality product on the field that would seemingly damage the brand currently being built.

Until then, keep on having fun with speculating potential expansion cities, I know I will.

Note from the writer: There currently is no indication from the XFL about expansion. There are publications from 2018 with potential cities and nothing points to these actively being considered at. As with all news, try to find the source of a claim before believing it as true.

9 comments on “Future XFL expansion: Rooted in talent before TV

  • Cool article – would be interested to see how QB stats in XFL compare to the previous failed leagues, because in my mind that’s a big driver of fan interest.

  • Bob Budiselic says:

    San Antonio, San Diego, Portland, Oakland, Chicago could be possible future teams in 3 to four years if the league shows it will be stable. This is a very good time of the year to try and kick start the XFL

    • Oakland and Chicago seem like good options. Both big football towns. I’d be hesitant with San Diego, California isn’t great at supporting football, they have the people but they don’t scream football. I’d also be hesitant to become Texas heavy, they could support a team but it doesn’t help spread the league into new markets. Portland would be interesting and maybe the most risky since they don’t have a proven record with football.

  • Gregory Crawford says:

    Birmingham should be considered : 1) brand new 40 thousand seat stadium 2) no other pro team 3) for 16 years straight ESPN #1 college football football market 4) 2.5 million people in NFL 75 mile blackout radius 5) 70% of state of Alabama residents (5 million) live within 100 miles of city with 4 mainline interstates I 20 , I 22, I 59 and I 65 . But the most important fact of all FOOTBALL it just means more here .

    • I like the idea of Birmingham, plus you make a compelling case. Having had a team in the AAF, I think the XFL has good precedent when it comes to considering them for expansion.

  • Gregory Crawford says:

    There is one other nugget i forgot to mention. In addition to 42,000 seat Protective Stadium under construction in downtown Birmingham we have 72,000 seat legendary Legion Field the original ” Football Capital of The South ” . At 72,000 seats Legion Field is larger than 66% of National Football League stadiums.
    Also, Birmingham is 140 mile due west on interstate 20 of Atlanta, Georgia 6.5 million people. So i think Birmingham is well positioned and very capable of having a successful franchise in the XFL.

  • Karen Robertson says:

    I watched a number of AAF games and I do not remember being overly impressed with the crowds who attended the Birmingham Iron games which frankly, surprised me for a city which calls itself “The Capital of the South”.

  • Gregory Crawford says:

    Thank you Ms. Robertson for your interest in Birmingham. Here are the actual attendance figures for
    The Birmingham Iron ( by the way i was a season ticket holder. Game 1 Memphis 17,039 , game 2 Salt
    Lake city 17,319, game 3 San Antonio 6, 539 ( state wide tornado’s 80 miles from Legion Field killed 23
    people that day) , game 4 Orlando 13,310 (torrential downpour) and last Atlanta 17,328. Compared to the figures from XFL teams in LA, New York, Dallas, DC, Houston, and Tampa Birmingham stacks up pretty well
    don’t you think? By the way Birmingham is not the capital of the south, that would be Atlanta . BIRMINGHAM
    is ” THE FOOTBALL CAPITAL OF THE SOUTH “

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