XFL delivers too much style, too little substance for fans
Is the new logo reveal just the beginning, leading to the XFL revealing the details of football operations in 2023?
A week that began with so much promise for the XFL as it signaled a seminal moment in the league’s re-branding for 2023 ended with it being the butt of jokes and the recipient of a lawsuit.
On Tuesday, the XFL’s social media pages and website went dark, with the site featuring a countdown clock that expired at Noon EST Wednesday. Speculation began to run rampant about what news would finally be on its way: Would cities be revealed? Full teams with nicknames? Head coaches? A television deal?
What fans got instead was a new logo and a press release explaining the league’s philosophy. The press release didn’t contain anything that hadn’t already been discussed by Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia in various interviews and social media posts over the last nearly two years. It was a lot of corporate-speak with nothing in the way of specifics.
The black and white logo, now the third different variation in the XFL’s existence, has drawn criticism from longtime fans. The consensus of those posting in the forum on XFLBoard.com has been a strong thumbs-down. In a Twitter poll about the new logo from XFL Newsroom, just 29% of over 300 respondents voted that they “love it.”
The social media mavens at AXE noticed the resemblance between its logo and the new XFL logo and had a little fun with it. It wasn’t as much fun for US Women’s National Team soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who threatened Johnson et al with a lawsuit due to how closely the logo looks like the logo for a company Rapinoe co-founded, TogethXR. Yesterday afternoon, that company’s Twitter account posted that they had served legal notice to the XFL over the logo.
Too often the work & creativity of women is overlooked & undervalued.
Diversity & equality are the norm around here. We’re thrilled to see the XFL embrace inclusivity but this rebrand ain’t it. We’ve issued a legal notice & will continue to protect the important work we’re doing pic.twitter.com/QoNAfx4FbK
— TOGETHXR (@togethxr) April 8, 2022
It’s entirely possible this lawsuit goes nowhere, but that isn’t really the point: At a time when the XFL is trying to wedge its way into the consciousness of the mainstream sports fan, this news doesn’t help. First impressions matter and for many, this is the first impression the new ownership group is making with its new branding. An underwhelming logo, being the butt of jokes from a men’s grooming company, and an impending lawsuit is not the way to make a positive impression.
What’s most frustrating to fans, though, is that the new ownership group doesn’t seem to be focusing on the actual football. We’ve been told of a vague partnership with the NFL; we’ve been given a new logo and a press release seemingly meant to perk the ears of potential sponsors and broadcast partners rather than actual football fans; and now the reporting is that the XFL could be getting into the NFT, metaverse, and streaming businesses.
None of that matters to the football fans the XFL needs to attract to survive and thrive. The product on the field and connection with fans through that will be first and foremost; if they can’t interest fans in that aspect of the product, nobody will be buying NFTs or wearing merchandise bearing the new league logo.
Yet, we’ve gotten nothing in the way of news on that front. No teams, no cities, no coaches, no rules, nothing. We know that some parts of the organization are keyed-in on the on-field aspect of the league, as scouts have been attending college pro days across the country during March to find the next set of XFL players.
The XFL has fallen into the trap of over-hyping and under-delivering. In an appearance on CNBC on December 23, Johnson noted that broadcast partners, new teams and cities would be announced in the next few months. We’re nearly four months removed from that appearance and have received no official word on any of it.
A few weeks later, on January 17, he appeared on the Manning Cast of Monday Night Football. He promised “exciting announcements” coming in the next few weeks. The only such announcement that fit into that time-frame was the partnership with the NFL announced a month later. Announcement, singular, and your excitement level on that may vary. Right now, fans are very much at the “show me, don’t tell me” stage.
Taking a step back, it’s clear XFL 3.0 does not intend to cater to fans of XFL 2.0. They see themselves as a completely different entity (hence the new logo), despite keeping the name and basic ideals of the league, and despite the teases and easter eggs Garcia and Johnson have posted on social media, ostensibly for former fans anticipating the return of the league.
XFL fans need to re-calibrate their expectations for the launch. There won’t be the same coaches brought back en masse, there will be some cities that change and perhaps even some that stay will be re-branded. That’s simply what happens when new ownership takes over, no matter how successful the 2020 version was in some ways. XFL 3.0 is trying to appeal to a broader base, which is what they’ll need to do to survive. As evidenced by this week’s occurrences, even that roll-out has had its pitfalls.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of the upcoming start of the new USFL season next weekend. In some ways, the USFL has become more of a spiritual successor to XFL version 2.0 than XFL 3.0 has shown so far. And it’s important to remember the new XFL ownership punting on a 2022 season is what opened the door for the USFL to be brought back from the dead. So when it comes to its spring football competition and the inevitable comparisons that will ensue, the XFL has to look in the mirror on that because of how slowly they’ve chosen to rebuild the brand.
Maybe the new logo reveal is just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe, over the next few weeks, the XFL will roll out all of its information they’ve been hoarding. Maybe they’re trying to coincide those announcements with the launch of the USFL, to try to usurp some of the coverage they will get. Maybe we just need a wee bit more patience. But for now, we can only judge the XFL on what we know. And that isn’t much.
If past is prologue then the XFL’s future could really be in question. Because of their success in other areas of business, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, and RedBird Capital have been given a pass. Fans put their trust in them that they had a plan and knew what they were doing. After 20 months of ownership, and the only thing to show for it is a new logo they’re about to get sued for, the time on that pass is quickly running out.