Hearts and Broken Promises in Birmingham
in Birmingham DeVito sat there as straight faced
as mother Teresa and told us that Birmingham
had nothing to worry about. "The ThunderBolts
will be in Birmingham for a long time",
"We are in this for the long haul".
This we heard from day one and from day one
this was nothing more than a sales pitch.
- (15 May 2001) --News
of the death of the XFL hit hard in Birmingham.
staff was finally making some inroads into local public
life. The cheerleaders had starred in a leather modeling
show at a Harley Davidson shop and they were scheduled
to be a sponsor at a local crab boil. The coaches were
out looking for players who could "actually play"
and Berryman and his marketing staff were analyzing
the responses from the season ticket holder survey.
the news came. McMahon was folding the league and all
the hopes and dreams of making the Bolts a fixture in
Birmingham came to a bitter and sudden end.
feel especially bad for the people who worked for the
Bolts. These were not junior executives who are going
back to their old jobs at the WWF. These people left
good jobs from all over the country to come to Birmingham
to work for the Bolts and were promised a minimum of
3 years. Many people felt the corporate strength of
NBC and the WWF would provide the financial backing
necessary to make this work.
fact the corporate backing was nothing more than a sham.
We learned from the XFL:
are not worth the paper they are printed on.
NBC had a "contract" to televise the XFL for
three years. During the season when ratings began to
slide they backed off to 2 years. Before the end of
the season they blatantly said they were through with
the XFL and they would not be back. I'm sure some lawyer
buried some escape clauses depending on ratings but
from the layman's point of view the documents they so
proudly boasted about were simply worthless.
always tell you what you want to hear.
First and foremost Vince McMahon and Basil DeVito are
salesmen. When in Birmingham DeVito sat there as straight
faced as mother Teresa and told us that Birmingham had
nothing to worry about. "The ThunderBolts will
be in Birmingham for a long time", "We are
in this for the long haul". This we heard from
day one and from day one this was nothing more than
a sales pitch.
is a good salesman.
Anyone who knows anything knew that to create a football
league from scratch would take someone who loved the
game and was willing to dump millions of dollars into
it for many years to get it going. Vince convinced us
all that he was just such a man. In the end the truth
is he is simply a servant of the corporate machine.
Stock price and market share figures dictate his actions
just like the NFL suits he criticized.
WWF changed our concept of what football could be.
One thing the XFL promised was to provide the best football
game day presentation in the world. This they did to
excess. Almost all of their on-the-field innovations
worked far better than anyone had hoped. The Bubba Cam,
the built in Microphones, the opening fight for the
ball, the no fair catch rule, the overtime rules, the
extra point rules, the speakers, the jumbo-tron. It
all worked; In fact it worked too well. The fact is
that if college and pro teams don't adopt the majority
of this stuff and do it now I just doesn't know if I
can stomach "your fathers football" any more.
It's just not exciting enough.
isn't about attendance or fans; it's about TV ratings.
In the early history of Pro Football the league survived
mostly on gate receipts. At some point the TV networks
began to cover the sport and pay big bucks. The players
wanted a cut and negotiated the collective bargaining
agreement. Since that time salaries have been going
through the roof and fans became an irrelevant piece
of the puzzle. The networks and their relentless drive
for ratings call the shots. And their money does all
the talking. Don't confuse fans with ratings. Even if
every soul in a major city watched the team on TV it
would not be enough. It takes people from all over North
America to garnish enough rating points to make the
network folks happy. Therefore if Chicago or New York
had an empty stadium yet pulled enough numbers on TV
everyone would be happy.
aren't that many real football fans.
I make a distinction between casual football fans and
real football fans. Casual football fans like football
but usually follow one or more other sports as well.
They "skim" the surface of "fan-ness".
They are extremely interested in big names and big games.
Their interest peaks when there is a playoff matchup
or a major record to be broken. The XFL provided little
or nothing for these casual fans and they are far more
numerous than the hard core fanatics. The hard core
football fans usually do not follow any other sport
to a great degree. They love the concept of the "team"
sport where no man is as great as the "team".
They delight in a collection of no-names like the Baltimore
Ravens winning a superbowl. They don't care about the
names on the jerseys but the instead focus on the fire
in the hearts of the players. These are the folks that
Vince McMahon thought would love the XFL and he was
right about that. But he was wrong in how many there
were. There were in fact very few.
said early on that this was probably Birmingham's last
chance at pro football. There are a number of reasons
for this. Birmingham has been falling behind other major
cities like Atlanta, Memphis, and Charlotte in virtually
every measurable category. That trend will likely continue.
Birmingham has major logistical problems that are getting
worse not better. The crumbling infrastructure of the
old Birmingham is where the facilities are that handle
sporting events. But the money and the population are
moving further south to the Hoover and North Shelby
areas. The people of these areas were willing to go
into the city to watch Stallions of the USFL back in
the 80's but in the 21st century they have proven unwilling
to travel downtown to an ever worsening inner city.
financial realities of creating a pro football league
from scratch may be impossible to overcome. If you remember
before the government broke up the Bell Company it was
simply a financial impossibility to compete with the
Telephone Company. The government recognized that this
was a bad thing and broke them up using the anti-trust
laws. The USFL came ever so close to defeating the NFL
16 years ago by putting a product on the field that
rivaled the older league and actually defeated it in
court using these same anti-trust laws. However by some
twist of fate that will never be explained legally they
were found guilty but never punished. This is proof
yet again that rich men never lose in court. The spectacular
death of the XFL along with the previous attempts will
most likely serve as a stern warning to any would-be
competitors to the NFL.
will not use this forum to vent the anger I hold toward
Vince McMahon and the WWF. I have learned as I have
gotten older that until you have walked in a mans shoes
you cannot stand in judgement. Just a few weeks ago
I stopped by the Bolts merchandise booth at the mall
and bought several items including a bumper sticker.
I was so proud to have it on my truck.. I hoped by showing
my support that others would find it easier to support
them the following year. I looked down at the sticker
while gassing up. I felt a deep hurting inside my heart
as a childhood dream died a painful death. I ripped
the sticker off and wadded it up and threw it away.
I think part of the little boy in my died that day.
Former Birmingham ThunderBolt team reporter