Houston, TX., May 20, 2019 – The XFL today announced that June Jones, a former coach for the NFL’s Houston Oilers and USFL’s Houston Gamblers, and a former head coach in the NFL, CFL and at the major college level, has been named head coach and general manager of the XFL team in Houston.
The Houston team will play at TDECU Stadium when the league kicks off in February 2020. Brian Michael Cooper, who previously served as Senior Associate A.D. at Rice University and President of the NBA G-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers, was named President of the XFL football team in Houston last week.
“We’re extremely proud to add Coach Jones, a man with four decades in football, as an XFL head coach,” said XFL Commissioner & CEO, Oliver Luck. “June has coached the game in three different pro leagues, including the NFL, as well as major college and high school football. The experience he’s gained at every stop along the way will no doubt serve him well as he helps us reimagine the game and build our Houston team into something special.”
“I’ve spent a few years coaching in Houston, and having a chance to return to be a head coach in the XFL is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Jones. “I had a really great time coaching in the CFL, but this new fresh opportunity to build a team from the ground up is extremely rare in this game, and I’m looking forward to working with Brian Cooper and our coaches to give football fans in Houston a team that’s truly exciting to watch and worthy of their support.” “June Jones is one of the most accomplished and well-known football coaches, and it will be an honor to work side-by-side with him,” said Cooper. “I have no doubt that his love of the game and commitment to excellence on-field will dovetail perfectly with our effort to engage Houston sports fans in new and exciting ways.”
Jones joins Kevin Gilbride (New York), Pep Hamilton (Washington, D.C.), Jonathan Hayes (St. Louis), Winston Moss (Los Angeles), Bob Stoops (Dallas), Marc Trestman (Tampa Bay) and Jim Zorn (Seattle) as the XFL’s head coaches when the league kicks-off in February 2020.
Jones comes to the XFL after two seasons with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Hired as the team’s assistant head coach in 2017, he was elevated to interim head coach after an 0-8 start that year. The Tiger-Cats went 6-4 under Jones, and he was appointed head coach for 2018, and took the team to the second round of the playoffs. In December, he stepped down to become associate head coach and offensive coordinator, clearing the way for the promotion of his successor.
Jones is entering his 35th season as a football coach at the high school, college and professional levels. In addition to the Tiger-Cats, he has held head coaching positions at Southern Methodist University (2008-14), the University of Hawaii (1999-2007), and with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers (Interim – 1998) and Falcons (1994-96). While leading SMU, Jones was named Conference USA Coach of the Year by The Sporting News in 2009, and Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 1999, 2006 and 2007 while the head coach at Hawaii. In his first season as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors, he led the team to a 9-4 record and a share of the WAC championship. Having finished the prior season 0-12, it was the most significant single-season turnaround in NCAA football history.
After three seasons as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator (1991-93), Jones was named head coach in 1994. Despite taking over one of the NFL’s worst teams, and having no first or second-round draft picks in his first two years, the Falcons made the playoffs.
In addition to his three seasons as an NFL assistant coach in Atlanta, Jones served as Detroit Lions’ quarterbacks and wide receivers coach (1989-90) and Houston Oilers’ quarterbacks coach (1987-88). During his 13 years as a coach at the professional level, he worked with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Brett Favre (1991), Warren Moon (1987-88) and Jim Kelly (1984).
Jones began his coaching career in 1983 as quarterbacks coach at Hawaii. After a season, he moved to the United States Football League as wide receivers coach of the Houston Gamblers (1984) and offensive coordinator of the Denver Gold (1985). In 1986, Jones was a co-offensive coordinator of the CFL’s Ottawa Rough Riders, joining the team after the USFL folded.
Before coaching, Jones played quarterback for the Falcons for five years (1977-81) and the Argonauts for one season (1982). A Portland, Oregon native, he signed with the Falcons as a free agent out of Portland State University after earning All-America honors, leading the nation in passing and total offense.
Last week the XFL revealed they would hold “Summer Showcase” tryout camps in XFL cities. We have now confirmed that these tryouts are by invitation only, and there will be approximately one-hundred players invited to each camp, where the coaches and league’s football operations staff will conduct an evaluation.
Potential players have been scouted by the league and are being invited through their agents. The invitation process began on May 13th, and agents are being instructed as to the details of the timing and documentation required.
The players invited are expected to be players who are currently Street Free Agents, players from the 2019 NFL Draft class, etc. Immediately following each showcase, the league will begin considering players to sign to XFL League Contracts.
The XFL will be gathering info on these players for signings and for the draft. The tryout camps will entail:
Height, weight and measurements for each player
Combine like testing; 40 Yard Dash, Shuttle drills etc
Individual positional workouts and 1 on 1 drills led by the XFL coaching staffs
Private additional workouts and meetings with XFL Coaching staffs
Player interviews and background info
It is reported that the XFL intends to make the Showcases open to the general public and media. More details will be released soon.
The official dates and locations:
6/7 Dallas- Maverick Stadium in Arlington, Texas
6/8 Houston- TDECU Stadium
6/14 New York- Sprague Field at Montclair State University
6/15 DC- St. James Complex in Northern Virginia
6/21 LA- Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Beach
6/22- Seattle- Memorial Stadium in Seattle
6/29- Tampa- Raymond James Stadium
7/13- St. Louis- LFA Training Center
Note: This information posted with contributions by Mike Mitchell.
Big time money is being invested into the XFL. Hundreds of millions of dollars. ABC, FOX, ESPN and FS1 will be airing the league’s games. Two big time networks that produce NCAA Football and the NFL on a grand scale, have signed multi-year deals to be the broadcast homes/partners of the XFL. The league will debut in eight of the top twenty-one TV markets in the country. New York, LA, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, DC, Tampa and St. Louis. Big time money in big time cities on big time networks.
It’s becoming quite clear what the vision and design of XFL2020 is at this point, despite being labeled as such by most detractors. The XFL has no intention of being a minor league. They want to be what the USFL could have been , and they want to be what MLS has become. They are trying to be a powerful standalone sports league in the spring. The league’s partnerships and big-league football hires are evidence of just that.
Back in January 2018, when Vince McMahon announced the relaunch of the XFL, his announcement was met with great ridicule and skepticism. Why bring back a league that failed in such a spectacular fashion? Was there even a market for it, and who would support or be a part of it?
The latter question is being answered on a daily basis. This past week alone, saw XFL Dallas Head Coach/General Manager Bob Stoops hire Daryl Johnston as his Director of Pro Player Personnel, as well as hiring, Air Raid Inventor Hal Mumme as his offensive coordinator. Big time moves in Big D. This coming Monday, June Jones will be announced as the HC/GM of the XFL’s franchise in Houston. A big name in those parts, Jones is a great part of Houston pro-football history, especially from his time with the Houston Oilers and Gamblers.
The current XFL’s eight teams will now have five coaches with Head Coaching experience. The original XFL only had one coach with NFL Head Coaching experience in the late Ron Meyer. The eight original XFL Head Coaches were all quality coaches with backgrounds in NFL Europe and the NCAA, but for the most part, it was what you would expect from a “secondary league.” No one expected the current version of the XFL to attract Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, but it’s fair to state that the current group of coaches, collectively, are a very solid group, one that consists of a college football champion, Super Bowl champions and a multiple time CFL champion. In an upstart pro football league, this is a strong positive… getting accomplished coaches to buy in. It’s not an easy task in today’s world to get these types of coaches to believe and commit to a new league. Especially after what just happened with the AAF, and what has happened to countless other non-NFL football leagues.
When it comes to the XFL’s TV deal, most people assumed that the XFL would have a hard time getting any networks to air their games. With the new age of streaming, the feeling was that if all else failed, Vince McMahon would just put his games on his successful WWE Network. Some thought that perhaps, one of his cable partners like NBC Universal, would perhaps, as a favor, allow the league to air some games on USA network.
The last time Vince McMahon attempted to bring a football league onto the sports landscape. He wasn’t a billionaire three times over. NBC backed him and bought fifty-percent of the league. NBC parted ways with the NFL, and saw the original XFL as a cheaper and potentially rewarding alternative. By now, everyone knows how that story ended. NBC took their contractually obligated fifty-million dollars away from the XFL and went home after one season. McMahon’s other fledgling broadcast partners (UPN/TNN), tried to leverage a second season of the XFL against McMahon’s other property, the WWE. McMahon begrudgingly was forced to choose, and ended up shutting down the XFL.
Upstart leagues have a very hard time getting any exposure or TV time. The defunct United Football League tried desperately to get any network to air their games. They landed/settled on HD Net as their main TV home. There was always talk of the UFL ending up with a cable deal or even on the NFL Network. The UFL hoped to expand to more than just 4 or 5 teams. The thought was that it would happen, once the league got their long-awaited TV deal. It never came, and the league eventually folded, ending in what was the sports version of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Upstart leagues have to beg for TV time, or in the case of the AAF, pay for it. These types of leagues are desperate for any type of attention and exposure. Credit to the Alliance, they found a way onto television by hook or by crook (Reggie Fowler). As admitted on ESPN Radio by Bill Polian, the AAF rushed into the marketplace to get ahead of the XFL. When it came to exposure for their league, the AAF knew that they wouldn’t be able to hit a home run, so they settled for just getting on base. The problem was that they never drove those runners home. The entire league was left stranded on base, unable to finish their season. The AAF still owes CBS and the NFL Network millions of dollars. They paid to be on CBS, which ended up airing only one game all season. They also paid NFL Network to be on their network. It was a neat way of creating the appearance/perception that the NFL was backing them by airing their games. Sort of like paying Marshawn Lynch thousands in quarters, to pretend that he was a backer of the AAF on TV. The Alliance was not only paying for production costs and air time, they were paying the on-air talents like former NFL Head Coach Steve Mariucci. As reported by Sports Business Journal’s Daniel Kaplan, Mariucci was being paid 20k per game, plus air fare.
The XFL having their games on ABC and Fox every single week is a big deal. Just being associated with those networks, gives the league a great rub. Having all four weekly games on Fox, ABC, ESPN and FS1 is the kind of exposure/coverage that sports leagues crave. Particularly an upstart sports league, that doesn’t have an established fan base or track record. Despite it being a new remodeled version, the XFL comes to the game with some blemishes on its image and record. The league still has a lot to prove.
There are some drawbacks to the XFL’s television deal, and the positives and negatives go hand in hand. Being on big networks ups the stakes. One of the things that killed the original XFL, was their failing ratings by 2001 standards in Network Primetime. The league’s championship game was a low point and had just over 3 million viewers. Ironically, this was the same number of viewers the AAF had in their premiere game on CBS. Being on a big network like NBC was great for the original XFL, but the expectation level of producing weekly primetime ratings hurt the XFL greatly. The league was setting historic weekly primetime lows in the ratings back then. However, the TV ratings landscape was vastly different two decades ago than it is now.
The current XFL will still have pressure to produce good numbers on Fox and ABC. The lone positive, however, is that the league’s games will not be on in primetime. Save for two games late in the season in weeks 9 and 10, that will be on primetime on Fox, the XFL will be airing early afternoon games in most of their markets. The “late” games are scheduled for 5pm Eastern, which would be 2pm on the west coast and 4pm Central Time. The ratings will still be judged, but on a different scale than if the league was in primetime on ABC and Fox. Instead the XFL is going to be in the position of being a lead in for other network sports and programming. Instead of being those networks feature presentations. Having to work and schedule around ABC and Fox’s many sports leagues, may have benefitted the XFL in the short run. The truth is that prime time games might not have been available on a weekly basis, even if the league wanted it. If the XFL was a weekly primetime entity on network TV, they would be expected to produce big numbers.
The other drawback to the TV deal is that the XFL is not being paid a rights fee by the networks. TV money helps keep leagues afloat. The XFL doesn’t have that luxury in this case, nor should it have been expected coming off the heels of the AAF’s demise, and other leagues like it. Besides the exposure and potential weekly coverage, and endorsement of being partnered with Fox and ABC, what the XFL is getting is their production costs covered by the networks. This could amount to 400 thousand dollars or more per game. Production costs for season one can range anywhere from 17 to up to and over 20 million dollars. The XFL is not paying to be on the air and won’t have to pay for the on-air talent. The presentation and production will be top notch, with premiere production and on-air talent from Fox and ABC’s deep broadcasting talent pool. Talents who have great knowledge and experience calling college and NFL games like Tim Brando and Joel Klatt for example. The networks will treat the games and players like they are important. This is the type of respect that upstart football leagues have really struggled getting in the past. All of this outweighs the negative of not commanding a typical sports league rights fee.
Ultimately, the XFL could have attempted to play in smaller markets and venues, and avoid paying expensive leases, or high salaries to coaches, office/football personnel or players. The XFL also could have looked to secure a rights deal with a cable network or a streaming service. There are so many networks out there looking desperately to add live content. The league could have gone small, limited their risks and costs, and the goal could have been to survive until they can potentially grow over time. That’s clearly not the strategy here. Perhaps there is an argument for that type of approach.
The XFL is clearly swinging for the fences right out the gate. The league might strike out and is guaranteed to lose a significant amount of money in the early going, as all startups do when they are trying to get off the ground. From the sounds and looks of it, Vince McMahon is prepared to take those lumps early on. Lose big early and then win late. The game to them is 9-innings, and the plan is to keep swinging for the fences until they start scoring big.
The XFL has announced they would introduce the new Head Coach/GM of the Houston franchise on May 20th at 11:30 am CT, at TDECU Stadium Club at the University Of Houston. The candidate, former Falcons and Chargers head coach June Jones, has widely been made known prior to the official unveiling, as it was originally tweeted by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
June Jones has been hired as the first head coach of Houston’s new XFL team. He was OC of CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he was the head coach in 2018. Jones was an assistant with Oilers and Gamblers as well as HC of Falcons, Chargers, Hawaii and SMU.
In the past, the 66-year-old Jones has spent three years as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and acted as interim head coach of the San Diego Chargers. More recently, he served as Head Coach of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the past two years.
Jones also has some local experience, since (as a young football coach) he was wide receivers coach of the USFL’s Houston Gamblers. Later he served as quarterbacks coach for the Houston Oilers. In these roles, he had a hand in the careers of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Warren Moon.
Jones will be the eight and final Head Coach hired by the XFL prior to their inaugural season kickoff in February 2020.
STAMFORD, Conn – The XFL today announced multi-year agreements with ESPN and FOX Sports to televise XFL games starting with its inaugural 2020 season. XFL games will air weekly on broadcast TV (ABC and FOX) complemented by games on cable (ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2). The XFL TV schedule allows for consistent appointment viewing each week with back-to-back games starting Saturday afternoons at 2 pm ET as well as two additional games on Sunday afternoons.
“We look forward to showcasing the XFL on ESPN and ABC, including the kickoff game and championship during the league’s inaugural season,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN Executive Vice President, Programming and Scheduling. “Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck are two of the sports industry’s most creative and experienced leaders, and they have exciting plans for this league. We believe in their vision for the XFL, which will be a great addition to our year-round commitment to football.”
“We welcome the XFL to the FOX Sports Family and are pleased to expand our relationship with Vince McMahon,” said Eric Shanks, FOX Sports CEO & Executive Producer. “Football is in FOX Sports’ DNA and a key component of our programming strategy. Alongside Oliver Luck and his incredible team, we’re excited for the debut of the XFL on FOX Sports.”
“We are thrilled to partner with ESPN and FOX Sports, two innovative media companies with extensive experience in world-class football production that will undoubtedly help us reimagine football,” said Vince McMahon, XFL Founder & Chairman. “The XFL broadcast schedule provides us with incredible reach and makes it easy for fans to watch our games consistently every weekend.”
The agreements were negotiated by CAA Sports and Evolution Media Capital (EMC) on behalf of the XFL.
The XFL will kick off on Saturday, February 8, 2020 with teams in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington D.C. Additional XFL-themed programming and on-air talent will be announced in the future.
ESPN, the world’s leading sports entertainment enterprise, features more than 50 assets – eight U.S. television networks, direct-to-consumer ESPN+, ESPN Radio, ESPN.com, ESPN International, ESPN The Magazine and more. ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC, Inc. (an indirect subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company) and 20 percent by Hearst.
About FOX Sports
FOX Sports is the umbrella entity representing FOX Corporation’s wide array of multi-platform US-based sports assets. Built with brands capable of reaching more than 100 million viewers in a single weekend, the business has ownership and interests in linear television networks, digital and mobile programming, broadband platforms, multiple web sites, joint-venture businesses and several licensing relationships. FOX Sports includes the sports television arm of the FOX Network; FS1, FS2, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Deportes. FOX Sports’ digital properties include FOXSports.com and the FOX Sports App, which provides live streaming video of FOX Sports content, instant scores, stats and alerts to iOS and Android devices. Additionally, FOX Sports and social broadcasting platform, Caffeine jointly own Caffeine Studios which creates exclusive eSports, sports and live entertainment content. Also included in FOX Sports’ portfolio are FOX’s interests in joint-venture businesses Big Ten Network and BTN 2Go, as well as a licensing agreement that established the FOX Sports Radio Network.
About the XFL
The XFL will reimagine football for the 21st century when it kicks off the weekend of February 8-9, 2020, committed to delivering a brisk, fast-paced game, with a fan-centric, innovative, and affordable gameday experience. The inaugural season will launch with teams in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington D.C. Each team will compete with a 45-man active roster over a 10-week regular season with a postseason consisting of two semifinal playoff games and a championship game. Vince McMahon, XFL Founder and Chairman, is personally funding the new league, and building the XFL with the same commitment and resolve that he has demonstrated building WWE into a global media and sports entertainment powerhouse. For more information, visit XFL.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
So far, there is no indication as to who the candidate may be. There are only vague rumors that Jim Mora Jr. and Mike McCoy may be possible hires. Mora was Head Coach at UCLA between 2012 and 2017, and has coached in the NFL for different teams including the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. McCoy served four seasons as head coach of the San Diego Chargers. He also has coached in the NFL, most recently as the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. Neither of these rumored names have been confirmed.
Noteworthy, is how strained the head coach hiring process seems to have become for the XFL. Of the eight XFL teams, the first six head coaches were announced as Bob Stoops (Dallas) on 7 February, Pep Hamilton (Washington) on 21 February, Jim Zorn (Seattle) on 25 February, Marc Trestman (Tampa Bay) on 5 March, Kevin Gilbride (New York) on 16 April, and Jonathan Hayes (St. Louis) on 18 April. It should be noted there was a long pause before Gilbride and Hayes were announced, and another relatively long pause before next Tuesday’s announcement. At one point in time, XFL representatives boasted they would have completed the hiring of head coaches for all franchises by March. Everything considered, they are two-months behind their originally planned schedule.
After Tuesday’s announcement, only the Houston franchise will be without a Head Coach/GM.
Stamford, Conn., May 1, 2019– The XFL has selected Elevate Sports Ventures to guide and support ticket sales for the league’s eight teams. The two-year agreement also sets Elevate as the league’s first Business Solutions Partner. Elevate – a joint venture of the San Francisco 49ers, Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, Ticketmaster, Live Nation and the Oakview Group – will design, implement and manage database marketing and ticket sales strategies for the XFL’s teams in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington D.C. The XFL launches the weekend of February 8-9, 2020.
The goal of the partnership is to bring the XFL to market efficiently and through the use of data-driven sales and digital marketing strategies and applications. Elevate will manage the day-to-day ticket sales effort in each of the XFL’s eight markets, working closely with each XFL team president and supplementing the skills of the team business operations group at the XFL league office in Stamford.
“We’re proud to welcome Elevate to the XFL family,” said Jeffrey Pollack, XFL President and COO. “With Al Guido, the rest of the Elevate team, and all of their partners equally committed to our cause and with important seats at our table, we’re even more confident in our ability to launch effectively.”
“Everyone at Elevate Sports Ventures, and each of our partners, is honored to receive this appointment from the XFL,” said Al Guido, CEO of Elevate Sports Ventures. “We are eager to use our well-honed experience in analytics-based sales and data-driven marketing on the league’s behalf, and for the benefit of what will be the XFL’s new and growing fanbase. We see incredible potential in this venture and are inspired to be working with Vince McMahon, Oliver Luck, Jeffrey Pollack, and the entire XFL team.”
ABOUT THE XFL The XFL will reimagine football for the 21st century when it kicks off the weekend of February 8-9, 2020, committed to delivering a brisk, fast-paced game, with a fan-centric, innovative, and affordable gameday experience. The inaugural season will launch with teams in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington D.C. Each team will compete with a 45-man active roster over a 10-week regular season with a postseason consisting of two semifinal playoff games and a championship game. Vince McMahon, XFL Founder and Chairman, is personally funding the new league, and building the XFL with the same commitment and resolve that he has demonstrated building WWE into a global media and sports entertainment powerhouse. For more information, visit XFL.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
ABOUT ELEVATE SPORTS VENTURES Elevate Sports Ventures is a best-in-class sports and entertainment consulting firm, providing proven, innovative solutions to organizations across the global sports and entertainment landscape. Elevate taps into the extensive resources, relationships, and expertise of its partners to innovate and execute comprehensive strategies and solutions in Venue Renovations, Sales and Marketing, Stadium Licenses, Premium Ticketing, Corporate Hospitality, Customer Research, Strategy and Analytics, Sales Training, and more. Formed in partnership between the San Francisco 49ers and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE) in 2018, Elevate welcomed Oak View Group (OVG) and Ticketmaster and Live Nation as partners in June 2018. In September 2018, Elevate launched Elevate On Campus, with the goal of supporting ticket sales, strategy and service in intercollegiate athletics and university venues.
There’s no question at this point about XFL owner Vince McMahon’s financial investment in XFL 2020. In 2018 alone, McMahon invested 123 million dollars to start up and fund the reborn league, by selling off shares of his company, the WWE. McMahon also laid the foundation of the league by investing huge money into insurance and workers compensation. This was done before the league’s relaunch was announced in January of 2018. A huge hurdle, and a must for any sports league.
On March 28th of this year, Vince McMahon sold 272 million dollars of WWE stock to fund the XFL even further. A fact that many mainstream sports outlets picked up on after the AAF folded on April 2nd. It made for a fun narrative, the idea that McMahon saw the AAF folding and then decided to cash out a large sum of money. The funder of the XFL is the league’s founder, a big factor in any league’s chance for survival and success. Vince McMahon is fully invested in a league that was his original idea, a league that folded against his wishes, and a league that he has thought of bringing back for years. Think of XFL2020 as the final item on Vince McMahon’s bucket list. The 73-year-old, who is worth over 3 billion dollars, is taking one last giant gamble. McMahon is emotionally and financially invested in what could very well be his last big project. The capital investment can’t be questioned. It’s the investment of other entities that will help decide the reborn XFL’s long term viability.
Getting fans and the sports viewing public to invest in the XFL, will be extremely difficult, for various reasons. It starts with changing the perception of the league, which is tainted by its 2001 existence. That’s an uphill battle, in and of itself. The folding of the AAF hasn’t helped matters at all. While many will point to the demise of that league, as being a positive for the XFL’s chances, simply because the league is now positioned to have the marketplace all to itself. The AAF’s existence and disintegration has poisoned the waters. The marketplace for spring pro football leagues has proven to not be fertile ground in the past. The sad tale of the AAF reinforced that notion. They have made the market an absolute wasteland. After what just transpired with the Alliance, how can the sports viewing public trust another league? There are a lot of sports fans who don’t believe in the idea of spring pro football to begin with, let alone the fans who actually do or in this case… did.
There are a lot of fans who truly believed in the Alliance. Many bought into the notion that the AAF would finally be the league that made it. The league positioned themselves as potential partners of the NFL. It was sold as a league that wasn’t trying to pollute the football ecosystem, but to enhance it. While the naysayers will mock the AAF’s level of popularity, based on poor attendance or the followings in small non-NFL cities like Salt Lake, Memphis etc. An example of this would be, the last Salt Lake primetime game on the NFL Network didn’t even crack the top 150 rated shows on cable. Despite the failings of some of the weak markets, the AAF had a lot of believers. Not just the players, coaches and football people who bought in, but most importantly the fans.
The fans can make or break any sports league or entertainment property. You could strongly argue that the AAF hurt the chances of another spring league earning the trust and faith of football fans. The Alliance’s founder Charlie Ebersol wrote a lot of checks with his grand promises that the league couldn’t cash. How can you trust another football league, when the AAF couldn’t even finish one season? Why should football fans invest all their time and energy on a non-NFL league? The Alliance burned a lot of its supporters faith. The now bankrupt league let them down. It’s only fair to assume that it will be that much harder for any new league to earn these fans trust again. Why buy in to the XFL or waste any time or energy on it, when the end result could end up being the same? The Alliance ended up being a league with false promises that will forever leave their supporters feeling cheated. An incomplete season from a league that was born from an incomplete idea, and operated with an incomplete business model.
The XFL is going to have its work cut out for it, to undo the damage done by the AAF towards football fans and believers in the concept of an alternative pro-football league. The XFL has eight strong football and tv markets. This will help in their exposure and in their upcoming TV rights deal with their broadcast partners. While spring pro-football is designed to fill the void of no NCAA or NFL football. There will still be competition to gain the interest and attention of football fans and the viewing public.
This past week, the XFL announced two more coaching hires. One in New York with former two-time Superbowl Champion Kevin Gilbride, and one in St. Louis, with virtually unknown but respected long time NFL player and assistant coach Jonathan Hayes. While New York has always been a tough town to earn respect, it’s the hiring of Hayes in STL that has raised eyebrows and drawn some criticism. To this point, the XFL following in Saint Louis has been its strongest. The league’s decision to hire Hayes rather than someone with ties to STL football past, has not exactly lit a fire or moved the needle in that market. Of all the potential fan bases and team locations in the reborn XFL. St. Louis has the most to prove to the football world. It appears that the XFL and Hayes were in talks long before the AAF folded, which negated the possibility of a familiar face from Saint Louis past like Mike Martz strolling in to run the franchise. Winning is a cure all, but the league getting St. Louis to make a larger investment in the league didn’t soar after this week’s hire. The market has a chance to be the XFL’s strongest. Will STL buy in? Will the XFL’s other markets and fans invest their time and energy into the league, like AAF supporters did? Time will tell. It’s up to the league to earn their trust and support.
Lost in the criticism of some of the XFL’s coaching hires, is how difficult it is to even get football coaches to commit to an upstart football league. Signing on to be the Head Coach/GM of the XFL is a risk, and anyone that signs on with the XFL is taking a gamble. In their most honest of moments, employees of the XFL will admit that they don’t know if the league is going to work or last. The odds and history are against it. This level of risk and feeling is multiplied by the coaches that buy into the XFL. Uprooting families is a part of being a coach. As a head coach, you have to convince at least a dozen other coaches to do the same and take the plunge along with you.
Kevin Gilbride is going to ask people he knows and that he has worked with in the past, to take a leap of faith and move their families to New York, to join his staff. All the while, he has to be thinking “I really hope this league doesn’t fold.” If you listen to all the top executives in the AAF, talk about that league folding. Their biggest regret is how many people they convinced to take on a job that only lasted a few months. Many of the top execs will land on their feet or have already had fruitful careers. It’s the people who took risks and left stable jobs to join the AAF operations teams and staffs, that were hit the hardest. CBS Sports writer Ben Kercheval recently revealed on Twitter, that a potential lawsuit could be coming on behalf of the AAF’s assistant coaches, many of whom are struggling to find jobs because this time period isn’t traditionally hiring season for football coaches. Hundreds of coaches left in a lurch, because they were sold a bill of goods.
Getting coaches to invest in an upstart league will be tough after what happened with the AAF. These coaches won’t be easy to convince. Credit to the current group of XFL coaches, who have decided to buy in and invest themselves in the league and what it aims to be.
This covers a lot of ground. From the league’s broadcast partners to local vendors, venues and businesses. After what just happened with the AAF, as revealed in their recent bankruptcy filing, some vendors and businesses are going to expect the XFL to pay them upfront. Can you really blame them?
If you are looking to open up a nightclub on Main Street, and the last nightclub that was there, had crime issues and burned down the neighborhood, you are going to have a hard time convincing the land owners and community that your nightclub can be trusted. The XFL is going to need sponsors far and wide to invest their time and energy into partnering with them. They have to be sold that it’s a solid long-term investment and that it will be beneficial to all parties.
The XFL’s broadcast partners also need to be fully invested in the long game. The original XFL got burned by its broadcast partners. NBC bailed on the league and took it’s contractually obligated 50 million dollars in year two with them. Vince McMahon did not pursue the funding that was legally owed to him and his league. He very easily could have fought it and won, but his relationship with Dick Ebersol played a factor in McMahon not pushing the issue. When NBC bailed on the original XFL, the league’s remaining broadcast partners UPN and TNN tried to leverage their broadcast deals with the WWE in exchange for a second season of the XFL. McMahon was forced to choose, and with no major funding or national exposure, Vince had to begrudgingly close up shop. It’s extremely important that the XFL’s current broadcast partners are fully on board with the vision of the league, and they have bought into the concept of building the league from the ground up, rather than expecting a quick return on all the time and money invested. The league in return, has to prove that they are viable for the long haul. The business and football infrastructure has to run like a well-oiled machine from day one.
This is always the easiest and most dependable area to get an investment from. Especially when it comes to the greater good of pro-football in the United States. As chronicled here last week in my “Keeping the dream alive for all football players” article, football players need a pro-league like the XFL to exist. There will be thousands upon thousands of draft eligible college football players that will not be drafted this coming Thursday by the NFL. Ninety-eight percent of the over 16,000 draft eligible players won’t even make it to the NFL or have the opportunity to become pro football players.
There will be some veteran players that will be skeptical about signing on with the XFL. Some will hold out hope for another shot in the NFL, and some will debate whether the XFL is worth all their time, energy and focus, despite what the league will be paying. For example, twenty-eight-year-old veterans like defensive back Charles James, who has been with seven NFL teams, and has been cut seven times. He took a chance to continue playing pro-football in the states with the AAF, only to see that league fold eight games in. Veterans like James have to be convinced that investing themselves in the XFL will be worth it.
Warren Buffett, the business magnate, is considered to be one of the best and most successful investors in the world. He has a funny quote when it comes to investing: “If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.” In short, this quote warns us that things change with time. It warns us that caution is an important part of success. It also implies a lot of other things, mostly that everything changes, and only what has happened in the past is written in stone. This may very well be so, but in order for a stock or a business to grow, it all starts with the investment of faith and trust. Something the XFL has to earn.
St. Louis, Mo., April 18, 2019 – The XFL today announced that Jonathan Hayes, the Cincinnati Bengals tight ends coach for the last 16 seasons and a standout NFL tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, has been named the head coach and general manager of the XFL team in St. Louis.
The XFL team in St. Louis will play its home games at The Dome at America’s Center when the league kicks off in February 2020.
“It’s an honor to provide Jon an opportunity to be a head coach for the first time after 37 years as a player and assistant coach in the NFL and at the college level,” said XFL Commissioner & CEO, Oliver Luck. “Jonathan comes with an offensive perspective that should help him thrive as we reimagine the game and engineer a style of play that’s fast and brisk. We are excited to welcome him to the XFL family.”
“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to be the head coach and general manager of the XFL’s team in St. Louis,” said Hayes. “I spent most of my NFL playing career in Missouri, and also played college ball in the Midwest, so I know firsthand that you won’t find better football fans anywhere. We’re going to work hard and put together a team that’s fun and exciting to watch, and that the fans of St. Louis can rally around and support.”
Hayes joins Kevin Gilbride (New York), Pep Hamilton (Washington, D.C.), Bob Stoops (Dallas), Marc Trestman (Tampa Bay) and Jim Zorn (Seattle) as the XFL head coaches named to date.
Hayes was named the Bengals’ tight ends coach in 2003 and worked alongside head coach Marvin Lewis through the conclusion of the 2018 season. Before coaching in the NFL, he served as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at the University of Oklahoma for four seasons (1999-02) under head coach Bob Stoops. The 2000 Oklahoma team, with Stoops at the helm and Hayes on staff, went 13-0 and won the national championship.
As an NFL player, Hayes was Kansas City’s second-round draft pick in 1985 out of the University of Iowa. He spent nine seasons with the Chiefs before finishing his career with the Steelers (1994-96). Hayes played in 184 NFL games with 153 career receptions for 1718 yards and 13 TDs. He played in three AFC Championship games and one Super Bowl (SB XXX, Pittsburgh vs. Dallas).
In college, Hayes played tight end and linebacker at the University of Iowa (1981-84), where he was a team captain and earned first-team All-America honors as a senior. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in general studies from Iowa.
Hayes resides in Loveland, Ohio with his wife and four children.