Will the XFL’s big time from the beginning strategy pay off?

Vince McMahon and the XFL are clearly swinging for the fences right out the gate.

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.

A Stroke of Oliver Luck

Oliver Luck signs Bob Stoops to Coach in the XFL.”That’s not something, I am going to be interested in,” Bob Stoops said when the XFL initially reached out to him over a month ago. Stoops was echoing the sentiments of millions of sports fans, when they first heard about the return of the XFL.

At this point, not being interested in the XFL is probably still the feeling of most sports fans, but there’s no denying that the improbable return of the league was matched or bettered by the shocking announcement that legendary coach Bob Stoops was buying in. Changing people’s perception of the league is not going to be an overnight accomplishment, but this is a big step forward in doing so. Call it a “Stroke of Oliver Luck.”

Eyebrows were raised with astonishment when it became official that Bob Stoops had signed a two-year deal, becoming the Head Coach and General Manager of the XFL’s Dallas pro-football team. Very few saw this coming. When NFL reporter Benjamin Allbright reported in January that Bob Stoops was contemplating a return to coaching, in the XFL, he was mocked and ridiculed. There were people on social media that were ripping news sources that finally confirmed the Bob Stoops rumor as a reality. One Twitter user even cursed out ESPN for “getting it wrong.” This person thought that Stoops was signing with the other league, and was angry that ESPN got the league name wrong. Almost as if to say, “How could this possibly be right?”

Regardless of the negative perception of the XFL, some of it was earned through sins of the league’s past. There’s no denying what a great hiring CEO and Commissioner Oliver Luck pulled off here with his football operations staff. This is a superb hire in any league, or for any college program, let alone an upstart spring pro-football league that has baggage. There was no one happier this past week than Oliver Luck. He was downright giddy. He deserves to pat himself on the back for this hire. If he was running the Cincinnati Bengals and made this hire, it would be worthy of praise. But this is not the NFL. Luck actually convinced Stoops to take the unlikely plunge of being an XFL head coach. At this point, it’s quite clear that the XFL’s best asset is their commissioner.

It was reported and highlighted through video by Mark Berman in Houston, that Oliver Luck, through his close associate and friend newly minted Houston Cougars coach Dana Holgorsen, reached out to Bob Stoops to gauge his interest. Holgorsen told Luck that Stoops was getting the itch to get back into coaching. Stoops dilemma was that he didn’t want to get back into the college ranks. He wanted to be near his three kids, who are attending Oklahoma. He wanted to see his son play college ball in the fall.

The XFL, as absurd of an option as it appeared to be initially, turned out to be an ideal fit for what Stoops was looking for. He had nothing left to accomplish in college. No interest in getting back on the recruiting grind, and no interest in being away from Oklahoma or his family. Then, in comes Oliver Luck with the ideal job. It was Luck, who convinced Stoops that the XFL was going to be a respectable and viable entity. This is something Oliver Luck has been working really hard at doing, especially in the last couple of weeks. After an interview with ‘The Professor” John Clayton on his ‘Schooled’ podcast in Seattle, Clayton commented on how his conversation with Luck, changed his viewpoint on the league. Even legendary sportscaster Tim Brando applauded Oliver Luck and their hiring of Bob Stoops, stating that the XFL had “more juice” than the AAF.” Brando even commented on social media that the hiring of Oliver Luck told him, “all he needed to know.” The television decisions they have in front of them will be fun to watch moving forward.” Brando currently works for Fox Sports, which coincidentally is the rumored broadcasting co-partner of the XFL. It’s not a stretch to think that Brando could be a part of the presentation.

Besides the obvious credibility and name recognition that Bob Stoops brings to the league, his expertise in college football and recruiting also greatly benefits the XFL. This is a football coach who has recent knowledge of the college football game, not someone who has been out of the loop for 10 to 15 years. Stoops is going to be recruiting and signing from a pool of players that he is extremely familiar with, something he mentioned on Dallas Radio Friday. Not only players that he successfully recruited and coached at Oklahoma University, but even players that he recruited but ended up landing at Texas, Texas A&M, or TCU, etc, and players and coaches he coached with and against. During an interview on “The Ticket,” in Dallas, Stoops stated that he is already fielding “millions” of calls from coaches and football players that are looking to join him in Dallas. Having “Optimum Scouting” as the league’s direct scouting department, and VP Doug Whaley’s scouting expertise, will also aid Stoops and the other seven head coach/gm’s that sign on.

Pep Hamilton may be the next XFL Head Coach/GM hiring. He is rumored to be taking on the challenge of finally getting to run his own pro-football team in Washington D.C. Hamilton has ties to Oliver Luck, coaching and coordinating offenses for his son Andrew at Stanford and Indianapolis. Hamilton also coached current XFL Director of Football Operations, Sam Schwartzstein. Beyond those connections to the league office. Hamilton went to school and started his coaching career in D.C. at Howard University. Like Stoops, Hamilton has experience in the college game, but also brings along pro-football experience as well. It’s clear at this point, that when Oliver Luck drops hints it’s not just noise or false hype. He revealed on Radio Row that a coach from a major college program had signed on. That turned out to be true. On Texas radio, he stated that a former coordinator that didn’t have head coaching experience, had signed on. That spells out Hamilton. His other hint on Houston Radio with Sean Salisbury, was that, “former NFL head coaches have left assistant jobs to sign on with the XFL.” Perhaps, with the heightened amount of attention towards the league with the Stoops hiring. credible reporters like Benjamin Allbright will out-scoop everyone again on the next group of names.

Legendary Chinese Philosopher Lau Tzu once said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Oliver Luck and the XFL just took a giant-step forward in their journey towards credibility and redemption.

Fan Choice: Vote on XFL Team Names

In 2000, when XFLBoard.com asked fans to weigh in on their choices for XFL 1.0 team names, the results were so interesting we decided to do it again.

As we await the official release of the team names by the XFL, we asked the fans to weigh in. Since January 13th, we have had hundreds of team name suggestions.

Now it’s time to vote! 

We now give you a chance to vote on the submissions we have received so far. If you don’t like the choices, you may still write-in your choice.

Instructions

  1. For each team, place a check next to all the choices you like.
  2. If you don’t like the choices offered, write in your vote at the end of each section.
  3. Click “Submit My Choices!” at the bottom of the form.

We will publish the winners and losers prior to the XFL releasing the official team names. Have fun!

Voting is now closed. Stay tuned as we tabulate the results.