XFL quick win: Out-plan the NFL and NCAA

XFL in a Bubble
XFL in a Bubble. If the XFL can lead all football leagues in health and safety protocols, fans get their best chance to watch football and the league its best chance at success.

In the week since the new star-studded XFL ownership was announced, speculation has started to swirl about when the league may return and what it might look like. 

COVID-19 will once again play a pivotal role in an XFL season. After the virus led to the cancellation of the 2020 season, subsequent bankruptcy, and sale, COVID-19 still looms large in the XFL’s future.

But, what once led to the XFL’s demise could turn into the biggest leverage point for future success. 

Learn From Other Professional Sports Leagues

Six league’s seasons precede an XFL season potentially kicking off in February 2021. Leagues in a bubble include the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLS. Non-bubble leagues include the MLB, NFL, and NCAA football. 

The XFL benefits from being able to observe best practices from each league. We have reached the stage of seeing what works and doesn’t work for leagues. This is where the XFL can differentiate itself from other leagues to ensure a season happens safely, in its entirety, and as scheduled.

Other football leagues are playing checkers leaving the chessboard open for the XFL.

The return of the NBA has largely been successful. They established a bubble at Disney resorts and are isolated from society. There are strict rules about who is allowed in the bubble, along with an entry quarantine process. Zero x2: zero positive test results for two weeks leading up the play, and zero canceled games over the first two weeks of the season. 

This NBA Disney bubble is largely seen as a success at the cost of $150 million.

The return of the MLB has hit some major road bumps. Within the first week, the Miami Marlins had an outbreak of at least 20 positive cases resulting in seven games being postponed. A second separate outbreak also hit the St. Louis Cardinals with at least 16 positive cases of COVID-19, resulting in 15 postponements for the time being. 

Major League Baseball does not have a bubble. Both outbreaks are alleged to be from community exposure due to player trips to clubs and casinos. There is no required isolation, and players are using this liberty and putting the season at risk. The coronavirus has also led to over 750 minor league players being released.

Using the MLB as an example is important. They are an example of what not to do and where rules can go wrong. 

NFL training camps have opened and players have begun showing up to team facilities. There is no bubble, and the health and well being of the league are dependent on the actions of over 2,000 players, coaches, and other team personnel. The Super Bowl is still six months away. There are a lot of variables and dependencies needed for the NFL season to go on without a hitch. 

College football is at risk to not taking place whatsoever. Players are practicing without fully established health and safety protocols. UCLA players demanded third-party oversight to follow what rules do exist almost two months ago to ensure their safety; at least eight players have contracted coronavirus since returning to training camp. Players want to play, but the NCAA is caught in business decisions and logistics about how to make it safe. 

The multiple D-I conferences have already canceled their fall season, most notably the BIG10. Other major conferences are in active discussions evaluating the feasibility of the upcoming season. 

Getting it Right

Here lies where the XFL can come out ahead of the NFL and college football for the upcoming season. A well thought out plan for the next XFL season is the key to success, which does not necessarily mean a February 2021 kickoff is the correct or even incorrect answer.

With the core structure of the league already established with proven success, the XFL has time and bandwidth to establish the gold-standard of health and safety protocols. For 2021, it likely means a bubble. If that is the route the league decides to go, this may mean the new ownership group has to hedge their bet now on the league’s immediate success. As seen with the NBA, bubbles are expensive. While the XFL won’t be going to Disney, and will likely be much smaller, accommodations and facilities for players, families and team personnel are expensive. 

If the NCAA fails to protect player best interests they also risk tainting the already fragile student-athlete relationship. Unhappy college players may be willing to forgo a college career to play in the XFL where their safety is of concern, they are compensated, and still maintain a stage to display their talents for prospective NFL careers. 

If a 2021 season takes place, it must demonstrate health and safety protocols with the best interest of the community a team plays in. It must be able to keep all team personnel safe to play a full season from start to finish, XFL 2.0 couldn’t survive a shutdown and it’s likely not something worth risking for XFL 3.0.

The XFL has a significant challenge to reintroduce the league amid the pandemic. With a tactful humanistic approach they can carve out a strong path to once again establishing a secondary professional football league. The answer lies in a well thought out strategy that accounts for what coronavirus has thrown their way, and more.

New XFL ownership after $15M sale: starring Dany Garcia and The Rock

Dany Garcia and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Rock, paper, for sale, sold! Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia look to continue building their empire as part of the new XFL ownership group.

Almost four months after the XFL shut its doors in mid-April, there is, once again, new life in the XFL. 2020 put the biggest blindside hit on the world, sports were no exception, and as quick as the XFL came to life it seemed to be down for the count.

The season started and the enthusiasm built with each passing week. Fan bases grew, national TV audiences tuned in, players like PJ Walker put on dazzling shows week in and week out, and BattleHawk Nation kawed their loudest kakaw.

But just like that, on March 12, the XFL saw its inaugural season come to a heartbreaking end with the emergence of the novel coronavirus.

Former XFL owner Vince McMahon watched as his redemption efforts for a second professional football league once again came crashing down. McMahon was the primary financier of the XFL’s return in 2020, losing the league mid-season, and all the growing momentum was too much for the famed WWE businessman to endure.

McMahon’s XFL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 13th.

In only a 5-week season, the XFL began to show its potential as an alternate NFL. The value from the strong start carried forward to the auction of the company.

Big Names in the Big Sale

Enough value to sell for $15 million at auction on August 3rd to the star-powered partnership of Dany Garcia, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and RedBird Capital.

Garcia and Johnson are co-founders of Seven Bucks Productions. Seven Bucks is known for the production of movie box-office hits with the likes of Hobbs and Shaw, Jumanji, and Rampage; all starring Johnson in a lead role.

The name of their production company stems from Johnson’s stint in the Canadian Football League. After being cut, Johnson had only seven bucks to his name. The XFL is the group’s latest challenge to take from rags to riches.

Garcia is now the first woman to own an entire sports league independent from a team, and was cited as being the instrumental piece in pulling the deal together for the group.

Johnson took to Twitter to share his excitement on the deal writing:

“With gratitude & passion I’ve built a career with my own two hands and will apply these callouses to our @xfl2020 brand. Excited to create something special for the fans!”

The deal is expected to be confirmed in a hearing on August 7th and close on August 21st.

Third Times a Charm

In what will be the leagues now third attempt at establishing a secondary football league, the new ownership group will look to put all the pieces (back) together to establish and sustain the XFL one more time.

The XFL seen early in 2020 was successful though short-lived. The front office had established and respected football personnel leading the charge. A competitive product was put on the field, and arguably an even better product put on TV.

Garcia has already shown early agreement at the potential to bring back operational talent that supported the XFL earlier this year. This emphasizes that this comeback is not tearing the league down by any means but will look to build on the momentum that was once taking the industry by storm.

The success seen in the 2020 season is the new baseline for the league. The game that returns by no means can be less polished than the previous. To re-engage the XFL fan base and have any shot at bringing more to the league an even better, more refined, and more game pioneering innovation needs to hit the field.

Surely discussed as part of the purchase, is the status of the TV deal the XFL had with Fox and ABC/ESPN. Last week, it was reported by Daniel Kaplan of TheAthletic.com that the TV partners were trying to get out of the TV deal citing the looming sale. Fox/ABC/ESPN gave the XFL legitimacy through their familiar football broadcasting. National coverage on these stations brought the XFL into homes, and gave the league more exposure than previous alternate NFL leagues.

As more details around the deal and future league proceedings come to light, the broadcasting deal will be a significant development to watch .

There is plenty to look forward to with the new rebirth of the XFL. The league has retained its potential as an alternate football league and excitement should be back in the air.

BattleHawks falter in DC with self-inflicted loss

BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’Amu gets dragged down during a matchup with the DC Defenders. (Credit: XFL.com)

WASHINGTON DC – A game where not many things went well for the BattleHawks ended in a 15-6 loss to the DC Defenders, both teams move to 3-2 on the year.

Coming into the week, DC was on the verge of their season having all the wheels fall off. While they might not have all their answers, their defense helped will them to victory. Before the end of the first quarter, DC head coach Pep Hamilton made a quarterback change pulling quarterback Cardale Jones after just two possessions. Jones went 0/2 with an interception.

This significant event would ideally be the writing on the wall for the BattleHawks to take advantage of the change at quarterback, they did anything but.

Execution Short Fall 

Kenny Robinson stepped in front of Cardale Jones’s pass keeping the ball off the turf. The BattleHawks offense took over with momentum on their side. The running back duo of Matt Jones and Christine Michael started the day strong driving 53 yards to the DC 11-yard line.

From this point on in the game, self-inflected wounds in the form of penalties with be the crux of the BattleHawks troubles the remainder of the game. A false start pushed St. Louis back 5 yards. An injury to Center Brian Fulkerts took him out most of the game and the offensive line struggled with pass protection all afternoon.

The opening drive building on all the momentum stalled out, and the BattleHawks would settle for a Taylor Russolino field goal.

On the ensuing kickoff, Russolino failed to kick the ball in the air past the 20-yard line. In the XFL, this results in a substantial penalty allowing the Defenders to start at the St. Louis 45-yard line. In his first series under center, new DC QB Tyree Jackson stepped up for the Defenders. What was once a pass heavy team turned predominantly to the run game. Jhurell Pressley would run it twice for 33 yards and Jackson capped off the drive with a 9-yard TD pass to Khari Lee giving DC a 6-0 lead.

From the interception momentum building drive ending in only a field goal to the new opposing QB marching right down the field for a quick and easy looking TD, the momentum of the game official shifted towards DC and the BattleHawks would play on their heels the remainder of the game.

The following St. Louis drive mirrored their previous drive. The BattleHawks moved the ball down the field, this time getting to the DC 17, before picking up another penalty for a false start, stalling the drive, and settling for another Russolino field goal. This tied the game at 6 and would be the last time the BattleHawks would add to their score.

DC would put together three additional drives ending in 3 points each behind the leg of Defenders Kicker Ty Rausa. Rausa finished the day hitting 3/4 field goals from 52, 50, and 22 yards.

Story of the Game

In his post-game press conference, Coach Hayes summed the day up well saying “We weren’t very good. We shot ourselves in the foot obviously with penalties, could never get a rhythm.”

The St. Louis offense is built off the run game, chipping away 2-4 yards each play setting up a manageable third and short situation. All year the offense has executed this successfully while leading the league in third down conversion percentage.

Penalty after penalty set the offense with a lot of second and third down and longs. The offense could not keep up nor did OC Chuck Long change his play calling to accommodate the setbacks. Coaching had its share of trouble today. Coach Hayes punted from the DC 39-yard line, the punt resulted in a touchback and the ball was taken out to the DC 35 yard line, a net of 4 yards on the punt. The XFL touchback rules are meant to encourage coaches to go for it on 4th down in those situations.

While players are ultimately responsible for the penalties they commit, it does reflect on the discipline and preparedness the coaching staff instills in them. Coach Hayes’s BattleHawks have been the most penalized team all year.

The offensive line struggled for really the first time this season. Ta’amu was rushed several times on the day with the offense relying on short quick passes that were quickly contained by the DC defense. Ta’amu had a season low 60% completion rate on 15/25 passing for 174 yards. The Defenders frequently got to Ta’amu reeling in 4 sacks on the day.

The receiving core didn’t offer Ta’amu too much support either. Tight End Marcus Lucas had only 2 catches on 6 targets with 2 drops. De’Mornay Pierson-El didn’t get going either, he had 2 receptions and had a net of -1 yards on the day.

Jones and Michael were more efficient in the backfield this week than last. Jones ran the ball 13 times on the day for 70 yards and Michael had 12 runs for 69 yards. Each back was able to pull off nice chunk plays frequently going for 8-12 yards before drives would stall. 

The injury bug battered the BattleHawks on the day as well. Center Brian Folkerts would return to the game after suffering an ankle injury, good news for Ta’amu and the line if he is indeed healthy. Punter Marquette King suffered an injury on a blocked punt when his kicking leg jammed in the blocker, we are still waiting for word from the team on his status.

Long snapper Tanner Carew also suffered an injury. Carew’s absence was felt on the day when the new long snapper almost sailed the snap, King the holder was able to bring the high snap in, but the rhythm of Taylor Russolino was thrown off resulting in his first missed kick of the year.

In a game where the BattleHawks were poised to take a commanding lead in the East brought the team back to the pack. The East has a three-way tie for first with DC, New York, and St. Louis all sitting at 3-2.

The talent and game play for the BattleHawks remains solid. St. Louis isn’t facing an identity crisis or crumbling on either side of the ball. Largely from today, it was penalties and undisciplined execution that cost them the win.

The BattleHawks remain on the road next week traveling to Tampa Bay to take on the Vipers. The Vipers are 1-4 on the year and are coming off a tough loss in a shootout against LA after losing 41-34. Tampa has a ton of fight and challenged in almost every game on the year.

As always…

Fight and Fly on, BattleHawk Nation.

XFL BattleHawks stay hot with win over Dragons

BattleHawks safety Will Hill makes an interception. (Credit: XFL.com)

ST. LOUIS — In front of a nearly sold out crowd of 27,527, the City of St. Louis showed up again to the cheer their hometown football team. Week 4 saw the St. Louis BattleHawks improve to 3-1 on the year after a 23-16 win over the Seattle Dragons, who fall to 1-3.

The BattleHawks controlled the game for much of the late afternoon showdown. This team has found a groove in every game so far this season. Their identity as a run-first team sets the tone for the offense with balanced and effective dose of Jordan Ta’amu and the passing game. On the other side of the ball, the defense continues to show up across the board and largely limit the opposing offense. This week was more of the same.

First Half Success

St. Louis set the tone in the first quarter largely behind the arm of Ta’amu. On their second drive of the game, Ta’amu connected with four different receivers as the BattleHawks marched down the field for a 96-yard drive. 75 of the yards were via the passing game while the other 21 came from the legs of Ta’amu. Back to back pass plays of 27 yards put the BattleHawks on the board. The first was to Carlton Agudosi on a deep ball and capped off with a catch-and-run by De’Mornay Pierson-El. St. Louis doubled their PAT completion after Ta’amu and Marcus Lucas connected on the 2-point conversion giving St. Louis a 8-0 lead.

On their next drive, the Dragons mostly halted the run game and brought Ta’amu down for the only sack on the day for either team. Like he’s done all year, BattleHawks kicker Taylor Russolino finished the drive with another impressive 48-yard field goal to put the team up 11-0. Russolino has perfectly executed his kicks all year sitting at 7/7.

After Seattle started with great field position due to a kick out of bounds, the BattleHawk defense was able to stifle their drive and hold the Dragons to a field goal. Seattle had a hard time moving the ball for the entire first half. Brandon Silvers started the day as quarterback for the Dragons and under his reign, Seattle only mustered up 69 yards of combined offense and only 27 in the air.

The last scoring drive of the half was a signature St. Louis drive. 12 plays, 78 yards, and burning over 7 minutes of game clock. Aided by a Seattle roughing the kicker penalty that would have ended the drive on a three and out, St. Louis had a fresh set of downs and chipped away at the field. Ta’amu connected with Brandon Reilly and L’Damian Washington for 21 and 17 yards. Keith Ford capped off the drive with a 13-yard scoring run.

Seattle’s Second Half Shake Up

Seattle went into the break on the receiving end of a lopsided game down 17-3. Looking for some sort of disruption in the second half, head coach Jim Zorn made a quarterback swap sending Brandon Silvers to the Bench and letting BJ Daniels have a chance to lead the Seattle offense.

It was a tale of two halves in this game. The spark of BJ Daniels helped the Dragons try to claw their way back into the game. In the second half, Daniels sparked the offense for 184 yards himself including 84 on the ground. His dynamic ability as a passer and runner began to give the St. Louis defense fits. The Seattle offensive adjustment was a step ahead of the defense and Daniels was hard to contain.

On Seattle’s two second half scoring drives their run game started to churn. On the second of their drives, the heightened defensive attention to the run game opened a hole in the secondary. Daniels connected with Alonzo Moore on a deep ball for a gain of 57 yards, the longest play given up by the BattleHawks defense this year. Shortly into the fourth quarter Seattle had cut the lead down to four, 20-16.

St. Louis only managed two field goals in the second half. Defensively, Will Hill stepped up as the Dragons were driving later in the fourth trying to take the lead. On a Daniels pass deep over the middle, the experienced Safety read the route for his second interception on the year. Which like game one, would seal the deal for the BattleHawks.

Performance Breakdown

Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu set the tone for the offense all day. He recorded career high 16 carriers on the ground leading the team in both attempts and yards with 63. Ta’amu continues to dish the ball out efficiently as well, he was 20/27 for 264 yards. Ta’amu completed 74% of his passes on the day and on the year has a league best 75% completion rate. On the day, Ta’amu accounted for 327 of the offenses 392 yards.

St. Louis’s ball carrying duo of Matt Jones and Christine Michael struggled moving the ball all day on the ground. Jones had 15 carries for 20 yards while Michael had 12 carries for 27 yards. Keith Ford returned for the BattleHawks after missing the last two weeks due to injury. Ford had 3 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown.

I am torn on the offensive performance this week. The almost 400 yards is an impressive number. But their run game was less than stellar. Jones and Michael had 27 combined carries for 47 yards. That is a lot of touches for little gain. Ta’amu had his most carries on the year, his number was called often likely from OC Chuck Long seeing something in the Seattle defense they were able to exploit. From a running back standpoint, the run game has not been the most effective or efficient part of the offense even though it is the team’s identity.

Though not showing in the numbers, it seems like the offense is doing exactly what it is designed to do. Short runs and passes setting up a manageable 3rd and short. They’ve done this all year and have been able to execute as well. On the year, they are sitting at a 52% conversion rate on 3rd down. The Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs converted on an NFL league best 48% of 3rd downs.

Game Balls:

Offense: QB Jordan Ta’amu (2)

Defense: S Will Hill (2)

St. Louis has established themselves as one of two teams at the top of the league. The team has shown improvement week in and week out on both the offensive and defensive fronts, the only team in the league to do so.

The City and fan base has a lot to get behind as we approach the halfway point of the season. With another packed Dome the atmosphere was vibrant and booming. BattleHawk football is fun and a great team to stand behind.

Next Sunday March 8 at 2pm CT, the BattleHawks travel to the nation’s capital to take on the faltering DC Defenders. DC has bottomed out after two straight weeks of losing football. DC will look to bounce back fighting to keep their morale up in this showdown in the East.

As always, Fight and Fly On, BattleHawk Nation.

XFL BattleHawks down the Guardians in packed Dome

BattleHawks Joe Powell rounds the corner in the first ever XFL kickoff returned for a touchdown. (Credit: XFL.com)

ST. LOUIS – The highly anticipated return of football to the great City of St. Louis did not disappoint, not one bit. 

Fan’s packed the parking lots downtown early Sunday morning. That means tailgating, partying, and football.

The St. Louis BattleHawks improved to 2-1 after handily taking down the New York Guardians 29-9, New York falls to 1-2 on the year. 

For St. Louis, the game was full of exciting plays across the offense, defense, and special teams. For New York, the game leaves them with even more questions at quarterback than they started with this week and an offense that could not get going for a second straight week. 

A Day of Firsts

On the day of their first home game, the BattleHawks put on a special show for the fans adding both team and league firsts.

On their first possession, the St. Louis backfield duo of Matt Jones and Christine Michael ran the team down the field for a quick opening drive touchdown. Jones, who has missed parts of practice each of the last two weeks with a knee injury, ripped a season long 47-yard rush. Michael capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run.

This is the second straight week the BattleHawks have opened up the game with an opening drive touchdown. Credit to Coach Hayes and OC Coach Long for their preparation going into games. 

St. Louis pulled off the first kickoff return for a touchdown in the league. Early in the second quarter, Keith Mumphrey received a kick from New York’s Matt McCrane. BattleHawks drew up a reverse as Mumphrey tossed the ball to teammate Joe Powell. Powell took the ball all the way to the house, tiptoeing down the sideline before diving in for the score. 

Special Teams were not done there. Two series later after the defense held the McGloin led offense to a three-and-out, St. Louis’s Carlton Agudosi got through the line to block the punt by Justin Vogel. Shaq Jones finished the play for the BattleHawks by recovering the blocked punt, the first of the year for St. Louis. 

On the subsequent offensive drive with a short field to work with, St. Louis took it in for a quick score on a Matt Jones touchdown run. This was the first rushing TD on the young season for the BattleHawks lead back. And that’s not even the biggest highlight of this series. 

Following Jones’s touchdown, QB Jordan Ta’amu shuffle passed the ball to De’Mornay Pierson-El who connected with Alonzo Russell in the end zone for the BattleHawks first success point after conversion.  And to boot, it was a well called 2-point conversion. Prior to this conversion, St. Louis was 0-8 on attempts this season. 

BattleHawks Safety Kenny Robinson hauled in his first professional interception. On the last pass we would see from Guardians starting QB McGloin, Robinson brought in the erratic pass. Robinson is the XFL’s only player who is eligible for the NFL draft this year.  

The big plays don’t stop there. St. Louis kicker Taylor Russolino got in on the action with the first XFL kick over 57 yards hitting from 58 yards out. Russolino also drilled kicks from 39 and 36 yards on the day. 

And last but certainly not least, the fans in St. Louis, all 29,554, filled The Dome on this the first home game of the BattleHawks season. A sold out crowd in the lower bowl made their presence known throughout the game. The stadium was filled with chants throughout the game from ‘BATTLE-HAWKS’, ‘KROENKE SUCKS’, and simply drowning out the Guardians from hearing their play calls. Fans showed up and did their job. 

Guardians Search Continues

New York came into St. Louis following a disappointing shutout week 2 in DC. The Guardians we’re able to manage 9 points against the BattleHawks. It took a drive from third-string QB, Luis Perez, halfway through the fourth quarter to score the team’s first touchdown in almost two full games.

The Guardians started the game with Matt McGloin under center. McGloin got banged up in the first quarter giving way to Marquise Williams. McGloin would get back into the game in the second quarter but his day ended at the end of the first half on the Kenny Robinson interception. Williams led the Guardians after the half but could not generate any sort of offense. 

During a goal-line stand by the St. Louis defense, Williams opted to pass the ball three straight times. The access the XFL gives fans to the game answered the question as to why New York passed the ball when their pass game wasn’t working. A sideline interview with NY QB coach G.A. Mangus said the plays were called with alerts giving both a run and a pass play as options. Mangus admitted at least one play should’ve been a run. With a QB with little first-team reps, play calls need to be succinct so the man under center can focus on executing plays not deciding them. 

Luis Perez would finish off the trio of Guardian quarterbacks to take snaps under center on Sunday. Perez orchestrated the only New York touchdown capitalizing on good field position starting on the St. Louis 40 yard line. 

Balance Across the Board

From the long and diverse week of firsts, it is clear this week’s win was a full team and city effort. St. Louis kept true to their run-first offense. Coach Long dialed up more than double the number of runs (37) compared to the number of passes (18).

Jordan Ta’amu donned the captains ‘C’ on his jersey this week, the first appearance on any BattleHawks jersey this season. Ta’amu mixed in a couple of his, now signature, escape from the pocket plays during the game. But overall, it was a quiet day for Ta’amu. The good news is that this team can play well without Ta’amu needing to light up the stat sheet. 

Another strong showing from the BattleHawks defense this week helped limit the Guardians to only 9 points. The D-line racked up 3 sacks on the day, Andrew Ankrah continues to impress bringing in his second sack on the year, Casey Sayles and Will Clarke each brought in their first sack. DC Coach Jay Hayes’s unit won the turnover battle 1-0, St. Louis is 2-0 when they win or tie on the turnover front. 

Credit the Guardians for putting up the most yards against the BattleHawks defense. This is the first time St. Louis has given up more than 300 yards (307) on defense and totaled less than 300 on offense (273). Though having given up the most yards on the year, it’s a testament to the ‘no quit’ mentality this team has. When New York was putting together strong drives, the St. Louis defense didn’t give in, stopping the opposing offense time after time on the day. 

Late in the game, it would have been nice to see St. Louis open their playbook to let Ta’amu air out the deep ball trying to stretch the field. We’ve also seen a handful of plays with fleet-footed backup quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in the first two weeks but nothing this week. A three-score lead in the fourth quarter seems like an appropriate time to test out the playbook. 

After wins, I normally assign an offensive and defensive game ball. This week I’m mixing up the categories.

First Game Ball: The Special Teams Unit; for the kickoff return, punt block, and 58-yard field goal 

Second Game Ball: The Fans; The Dome was rocking on Sunday and the team thrived off the energy. 

St. Louis, welcome back to the football scene. You didn’t miss a beat.

Didn’t get enough XFL today? BattleHawks are back in the Dome next Saturday, February 29th to take on the Seattle Dragons. New York heads home to take on the now red hot LA Wildcats. 

Fight and Fly On, BattleHawk Nation.

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.

BattleHawks Fall Short Against the Roughnecks in Week 2 Thriller

Houston QB PJ Walker evades the BattleHawks Jake Payne. (Credit: XFL.com)

HOUSTON – In the most exciting game of the weekend, the Houston Roughnecks and St. Louis BattleHawks traded jabs for four quarters of hardnose football. In the end, Houston (2-0) held on to top St. Louis (1-1) with a final score of 28-24. 

Two of the best quarterbacks in the league squared up and showed their stuff. Houston is led by the shifty PJ Walker. Walker was with the Colts alongside former NFL QB Andrew Luck. Andrew gave Walker high praise encouraging his dad, and XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck, to let Walker try out for the league. Andrew and Oliver both made good decisions as Walker has been one of the most fun players to watch over the first 2 weeks.  

And St. Louis’s own Jordan Ta’amu, the fleet-footed strong-armed 22-year old who is the youngest starting QB in the league.  

Week 2 saw St. Louis stick to their game 1 identity being a run-first team, carrying the ball 43 times for 126 yards. Rush attempts accounted for 54% of their plays this week, down from close to 60% week 1. The BattleHawks likely would’ve kept that 60% run/pass ratio had they not been down the entire second half. 

Matt Jones battled a knee injury during the week which impacted his carry total on the day. He also looked to have reaggravated his knee early in the second half. He ended the day with 16 carries for 44 yards. Christine Michael picked up carries this week with Jones nursing an injury and Keith Ford out for the game. Michael put up a similar line with 15 rushes for 38 yards. 

BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu impressed most of the day. He went 30/37 for 284 yards, 3 TDs, and 32 more yards on the ground. The blemish on his stat line is the two interceptions.

Houston’s Cody Brown and Jeremiah Johnson brought in the two picks for the Roughnecks. Interceptions are bad enough, but both guys added big returns after the inceptions to the St. Louis 1 and 6-yard lines, respectively. The Roughnecks didn’t miss a beat on offense following the interceptions adding two touchdowns with only a short field to work with. 

Trading First Half Punches

The opening drive for the Roughnecks started with a 37-yard kick return by Houston’s Ajene Harris. Houston moved the ball this series but the BattleHawk defense held them to a 44-yard field goal. 

The BattleHawks answered the Roughnecks opener with an opening drive touchdown for themselves. Both Matt Jones and Christine Michael started in the backfield with Jones getting the first carry of the day. 

The drive was highlighted by a 27-yard connection between Keith Mumphrey and Ta’amu and finished off with a short pass to Jones for a nice 25-yard catch and run touchdown to give St. Louis a 6-3 lead. 

Not stopping there, Houston responded with a 6 play 66-yard drive ending in the end zone on a PJ Walker pass to Cam Phillips putting the Roughnecks up 12-6; this duo went on to connect for 3 TDs together on the night.

St. Louis struggled to move the ball for the remainder of the first half. There next four drives went punt, punt, interception, turn over on downs. They went into halftime down 21-6.

Opening drives to start a game are usually scripted/ predetermined as part of a team’s gameplan. St. Louis opened their first drive by utilizing four straight plays with a man in motion, and 6 of 9 plays on the touchdown scoring drive. The remainder of the half saw very little motion. For something to be planned and executed well on the first drive and then thrown out for almost the remainder of the game wasn’t something you like to see. 

Second Half Sparks

Coming out to start the second half, the BattleHawks strung together a 13 play drive. Ta’amu and Pierson-El connected for a 23 yard gain, the pair finished off the drive connecting on a 1-yard reception to make the score 21-12. 

After the BattleHawks defense forced a 3 and out, the offense marched back down the field for another 13 play drive capped off by a 4 yard run by Ta’amu. This closed Houston’s lead to 3, 21-18. 

Not to be overlooked in the game is the BattleHawks defense. Week 1 they didn’t give up a touchdown against the Dallas Renegades. Many people brushed this off since the Renegades were without starting QB Landry Jones. 

Don’t let the 28 points-against be the nail in the coffin for this unit. 13 of those points only required the Roughnecks to move the ball a combined 7 yards. Houston was moving the ball well in the first half picking up big chunk plays of 33 and 20 yards. 

As good as the offense was in the second half, the defense was a half-step ahead of them to close out the night. The biggest play they gave up in the second half was a 15-yard scramble by Walker, the drive ended in Houston punting. 

Sacks were elusive on the night largely due to PJ Walker’s awareness in the pocket. Andrew Ankrah was the only one able to record a sack on the day, also bringing home a team-high two tackles for a loss. Cornerback Darius Hillary also played a great game on defense. Hillary was tracking the ball well barely missing two picks, he was jumping the routes like crazy. 

Controversial No-Call

The controversial point in the game came with less than 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter. A perfect punt by Houston’s Austin Rehkow and a pair of offsides by the offense had the BattleHawks back up to their own one-yard line. After clawing their way into Roughneck territory, Ta’amu and the offensive line saw Roughneck MLB Frank Ginda jump offsides. Assuming the refs saw the play and called it, Ta’amu had a free play and threw the ball up to the receiver with the deepest route. Not a single ref threw their flag and Ta’amu’s lob was picked off. 

Ta’amu throws the ball in this situation thinking the play has only upside and any negative play will be taken off the board due to the defensive penalty. The no-call reversed the course of the game with 7 point swing in favor of the Roughnecks.

This season, XFL refs have called games very well. The use of the replay official in the booth has added transparency and is appreciated league-wide. It will be interesting to see how the XFL responds to this potentially game-changing call, arguably the biggest on the year so far.

The BattleHawks would drive and score one more TD with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game to make it 28-24. But the damage was done and Houston hung on to win a thriller, 28-24. 

In the end, Houston won the turnover battle 2-0 and that was the difference-maker this week. The teams competed for all four quarters and we all got to see a great game a football. 

The BattleHawks come home next Sunday, February 23rd for their home opener against the New York Guardians. 

Expect The Dome to be full and the stadium to be popping because football will be back in St. Louis!

Fight and fly on, BattleHawk Nation.

St. Louis BattleHawks: A Team for the Fans

St. Louis BattleHawks

Missouri, a state celebrating arguably the biggest trophy in all of sports with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs bringing home the Lombardi Trophy winning Super Bowl 54. The best way to continue this historic feeling of peak football is obviously more football. Cue the St. Louis BattleHawks. For 21 years, fans packed The Dome and supported their Rams, that is the Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams. The team was not able to sustain The Greatest Show on Turf later falling into a 10-year playoff drought and subsequent relocation spurred by, his name who should only be used in vain, new team owner Stan Kroenke. Just like that, the magic of the Rams was ripped from the fans and the city. 

The St. Louis BattleHawks are not a replacement for the Rams. They are an addition to the city and the passionate fan base supporting the true hometown teams. This is the only current XFL franchise not sharing a city with an NFL team. The BattleHawks aren’t just for the hometown crowd. It’s open season to pick an XFL team; this fan base is passionate, committed, and growing rapidly. 

Take a look at the online footprint each team has on Twitter (parentheses represent growth in followers over the last 7 days).

  1. St. Louis BattleHawks: 77.3K (+31.3K)
  2. DC Defenders: 62.8K (+30.7K)
  3. Dallas Renegades 61.4K (+22.3K)
  4. Houston Roughnecks: 53K (+20.9K)
  5. New York Guardians: 49.3K (+21.3K)
  6. Seattle Dragons: 45K (+15.1K) 
  7. Tampa Bay Vipers: 44.6K (+15.4K)
  8. LA Wildcats: 34.2K (+11.9K)

What the fans are saying

The best way to see how people view the XFL and the BattleHawks is to hear it directly from them. I did just that and got folks reaction to the new league and team.

Rob from Olathe thinks the XFL has staying power. The authentic approach of the XFL this time around shows they mean business.

Media companies and TV deals are significant. The two major networks contracted are Disney, with games on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN 2; and Fox, with games on Fox, FS1, and FS2. Like Saturday and Sunday during the NCAA and NFL season, fans will be amongst familiar channels and crews supporting these games giving it that authentic football. 

Rob also talked about the innovation the league is embracing and trying out. While he doesn’t think every single change will stick, he is all for trying. The XFL has made every indication that they will continue to evolve and adapt the game. Feedback given the NFL has not incorporated has been listened to by the XFL. A tip of the hat to fans from the XFL catering the product to the consumer. 

BattleHawk Mafia (Kyle) from St. Louis talked about how this city is poised to take off as a fan base and as a team. The social media presence has been a great start to engage fans prior to the season kicking off. St. Louis is a football city and this is a chance for everyone out there to show the NFL what they’re missing. He’s ready for game day with the crew, some drinks in The Dome, and BattleHawk football. He reflected about how going to games creates lifelong bonds between parents and children along with friends.

Ryan from St. Louis joins the city as a transplant but has no doubts about the fan base in the city making this an easy choice for him to root for the BattleHawks. He shared thoughts on what this league can become. First, he’s happy to see former NFL guys get second chances. While the XFL and NFL aren’t affiliated, most guys share the goal to make it to the NFL. Channeling his soccer fandom, Ryan said once the league is built up and established he’d like to see a Premier League-esque system where XFL teams change places with poor-performing NFL teams. 

Cory from Nashville shares Ryan’s excitement to see the talent in the league have a chance to succeed. One guy in particular is Jordan Ta’amu, the BattleHawks QB who produced a ton at Ole Miss. He highlights Ta’amu’s ability to move around the pocket and keep plays alive (something we saw a lot of week 1). He’s excited about Will Hill, former Safety in the NFL, to patrol the backfield (Hill notched an interception week 1 against the Dallas Renegades). It’s guys like Hill and others who show the league as a whole has high caliber talent on the rosters. Fun note, Cory gave these answers before these guys put up stellar first games.

The sense I got from the fans I talked with is that they are ready, the city is ready, and nation is ready for BattleHawk football.

Getting Over the Hurdle

It is fair to acknowledge this league and team don’t come without risk. The UFL, AAF, and even a previous version of the XFL closed their doors after brief stints of existence, the AAF not even making it through their first season. There may be some former Rams fans who are hesitant to jump on board risking another heartbreak and even additional people not wanting to waste their time due to new league fatigue.

The barriers for a successful league exist and are no small feat. The sports world has seen leagues come in go, and heck, the first version of the XFL has been used as a gold standard of what not to do this time around. And that’s the beauty of it. This XFL is not the XFL of 2001 and the only resemblances the two share are the name and the man up top, Vince McMahon. 

A good reminder is that the XFL is a work in progress. The league is stepping in to help evolve the game of football fans know today. Some changes will be great and some changes wont be, but expect a product that will continue to develop to meet and exceed expectations.

Having seen a successful week one in the league, hopefully some of the hesitation has been put to rest. Buzz in the news is increasing week over week, fan bases are growing, and now more than ever is a great time to support the league.

To those XFL fans undecided on a team to follow and those interested seeing what the league is about, there is no wrong choice when picking a team. But I know one fan base who knows there is a right choice. 

And hey, America doesn’t have a team yet in this league…just saying.

Fight and Fly On, BattleHawk Nation.

Did you miss some of the action week one of BattleHawk football? Check out this game recap.

XFL BattleHawks Take Down Renegades to Secure First Win

BattleHawks QB Jordan Ta’amu impressed with almost every aspect of his game. (Photo: XFL.com)

The St. Louis BattleHawks marched into Dallas as the biggest underdog in the league week 1. Undeterred, St. Louis played team football taking down the Renegades 15-6. St. Louis secured two big firsts this game: the first win in franchise history and the first XFL team to win on the road. They move to 1-0 on the year. 

While not a high scoring affair, the BattleHawks and Renegades provided an action packed event the XFL has been promising. 

Offense Begins to Mesh

St. Louis established the run game early and leaned on it throughout the game. Running back Matt Jones shouldered the largest load, carrying the ball 21 times for 85 yards. Jones was able to chip away medium gains most runs then setting up good yardage for second and third downs. Keith Ford added a 16 yard run for the BattleHawks first touchdown late in the first half. The surprise of the day was Jones getting the start over Christine Michael who was slotted first on the depth chart. Jones took advantage of this opportunity while Michael struggled all game; 0 yards on 7 attempts and losing a yard on his lone reception. 

BattleHawks QB Jordan Ta’amu impressed with almost every aspect of his game. Through the air, Ta’amu was 20/27 with 183 yards and a TD, on the ground he added 77 yards on nine carries. Ta’amu said he had nerves starting out but throughout the game, you could see him settle in. Coach Hayes said he was impressed by the young quarterback’s poise. Access to in-game audio let us in on a conversation between the two after Ta’amu took a 12-yard sack on third down, leaving a long 48-yard field goal attempt Taylor Russolino nailed, Hayes stressed the importance of throwing the ball away.   

Ta’amu started a drive halfway through the third quarter by hitting receivers on three straight attempts for 10, 11, and 13 yards. A couple plays later Ta’amu tore down the field for a 37-yard run. He capped off the drive by connecting with Alonzo Russell in the back of the endzone, both party’s first touchdowns of the season.

Eight receivers got in on the action today. Wideout turned tight end Marcus Lucas hauled in 4 catches. L’Damian Washington pulled in a team-high 5 receptions. Alonzo Russel showed off his hands in the endzone for 1 of his 3. And De’Mornay Pierson-El had the longest play for the offense after a speedy catch-and-run for 41 yards. 

Offensive game ball: QB Jordan Ta’amu

Lockdown Defense

The BattleHawks don’t win this game without the defense showing up the way it did. Drive after drive the front seven kept the pressure on Renegades QB Philip Nelson. Four BattleHawks picked up a sack on the day, linebackers Terence Garvin and Dexter McCoil, then Dewayne Hendrix and Jake Payne from the line.

Dallas could not get their run game going all night, as a team they only had 12 attempts for 58 yards. With nothing working on the ground, the Renegades went pass-heavy with Nelson going 33/42 for 199 yards. The backfield was put to the test and they passed. Most completions were for short yardage only. Former NFL safety Will Hill sealed the game for St. Louis picking off Nelson with less than 30 seconds left in the game. All around, the BattleHawk defense played as one cohesive unit avoiding the big play and shutting the Renegades out of the endzone. 

Defensive game ball: S Will Hill

The major blemish on the day was all the penalities, 9 for 78 yards (though the final penalty was intentional to give punter Marquette King more room to kick). Several drives stalled out as a result keeping Dallas in the game all night. St. Louis was the most penalized team through week 1, something that will need to be addressed moving forward. 

If you tuned in to the game this week, you saw the great new fan features the XFL rolled out this season. In-game interviews, listening in on play calls, and hearing the refs deliberate and most importantly get calls right highlighted the changes in the broadcast. 

St. Louis keeps their Texas road trip going as they head down to Houston next Sunday to take on the 1-0 Roughnecks. 

Fly and Fight on, St. Louis.

XFL Launches Free Gaming App Amid Increase in Sports Betting Partnerships

Play XFL is available in both the Apple and Google Play stores.
Play XFL is available in both the Apple and Google Play stores.

A new fan focused feature was introduced today by the XFL – the PlayXFL app. In an effort to focus on fan engagement and entertainment this is certainly a differentiator for the league.

The PlayXFL app is a free app that lets fans predict final scores to select games. Week 1 highlights the two Sunday games. Pick the score correctly for both games and win $25,000. Simple, right? Well give it a go taking on the likely anticipated thousands of fans giving their best shot.

If you think $25,000 gets you excited, Week 2 has a prize of $500,000 to the person able to predict the exact score to the 3 designated games. I imagine fans will now plan to watch a little closer and a little longer this opening weekend to give themselves the best shot for cash week 2. Stick around for the playoffs and you could win a cool, $1,000,000 – that’s six zeros and a cool one million dollars, my friends.

Plan on going to the games? The app offers another feature to fans in-stadium to play a 4-question Pick’em game to win team swag, tickets, and more.

PlayXFL is available on iOS and Android devices in the US only.

A Play for Sport Betting

PlayXFL is a great addition by the league. Fringe fans will have a reason to tune in, casual fans have a reason to increase their commitment, and hardcore fans can flex their knowledge to try and win big. The XFL is also bridging the gap for fans to transfer their knowledge to the sports betting world. The XFL has a direct partnership with sportsbook Fox Bet along with daily fantasy platforms DraftKings and FanDuel.

The XFL isn’t missing a beat as they bring betting front and center to the game. Consistent with the shift and growth in the betting market, sports betting is big business and the XFL wants a piece of the pie. Expect to see TV graphics during game broadcasts with live updates on how the point spread and over/under are impacted. Crews in the broadcast booth will also incorporate discussions about the impact of plays on the money lines. Teams going for and missing a 3 point PAT and eventually the team goes on to lose by 7 in at +3.5 spread is big news to bettors and broadcasters can dissect these plays as they happen.

Whether free or paid, sports betting is geared up and ready for the 2020 season.