With the NFL undergoing a nearly unprecedented decline in ratings, in-game attendance, and overall popularity; a bold and adventurous businessman with lots of resources, could consider launching a rival football league to compete with the NFL.
The WWE’s Vince McMahon is fits that bold and adventurous description and, reportedly, he is considering launching a new football league.
The first report of McMahon’s potential interest appeared on Twitter, via Brad Shepard:
EXCLUSIVE: Vince McMahon is looking to bring back the XFL and may announce it on January 25th, 2018.
— Brad Shepard (@TheBradShepard) December 16, 2017
EXCLUSIVE: Vince McMahon told people in WWE that he developed the desire to bring back the XFL when he was doing the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on it.
WWE employees have been told internally to “get ready” because it is coming.
— Brad Shepard (@TheBradShepard) December 16, 2017
“The WWE, when asked to confirm or deny a potential XFL reboot by David Bixenspan of Deadspin.com, said this: ‘Vince McMahon has established and is personally funding a separate entity from WWE, Alpha Entertainment, to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football. Mr. McMahon has nothing further to announce at this time.'”
While that confirmation isn’t specific, it confirms the substance of Shepard’s report.
In 2001, Mcmahon, then of the WWF, launched a football league which attempted to complement the NFL, instead of rival it.
In February, Pro Football Talk wrote of a conversation between McMahon and NBC’s Dick Ebersol, where the two discussed a possible return of the XFL, or something similar to it. The impetus behind that conversation sprung from a Sports Illustrated article which strongly supported the idea that football fans did not like the current direction of the NFL.
Instead of a focus on safety, concussions, and rules designed to prevent injury; fans seemed to want a return to “no holds barred” football. The original version of the XFL was certainly that, featuring a combination of acrobatic hits with an atmosphere that seemed focused on entertainment instead of safety.
Could it be that the XFL might have just been ahead of its time? There seems to be some willingness to find out. As Pro Football Talk relates, at that meeting in early 2017, Ebersol asked McMahon, “Do you ever have any thoughts about trying again?”
McMahon replied, “Yes I do. I don’t know what it would be. I don’t know if it’s gonna be another XFL or what it may be or how different I would make it. It seems like in some way it would tie in either with the NFL itself or the owners.
“Well certainly the most adventurous owner is Jerry Jones,” Ebersol says.
McMahon nods and smiles. “Yes.”
“We both know him pretty well,” Ebersol continues. “You’ve just had a Wrestlemania with him. Jones is and was a real fan of what we tried to do and speaks of it even fondly still today as something that really was trying to fill a need.”
Given Jerry Jones’ failed attempt to derail or delay NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract, this conversation is even more interesting now than it was in February of this year. After all, what better way for Jones to get back at Goodell, than to somehow foster a rival league that would hurt the NFL’s business?
Now, of course, as an NFL owner Jones probably could not fund a direct rival to the NFL without running afoul of dozens of explicit or implied legal rules which prevent him from doing so.
However, as we saw with the Papa John’s episode a few months ago, Jones has shown a willingness and and ability to convince his business partners to turn on the NFL when he wants to make a point. Who is to say that Jones couldn’t covertly arrange a meeting between McMahon and a high-dollar investor? Or, broadcast partner?
Would Jones be hurting his own business if McMahon decided to compete with the NFL? Maybe, but it’s highly unlikely. And even if the “XFL 2.0” were to seriously challenge the NFL, the league’s 32 owners would probably just do what they normally do in the business world when they’re threatened by an outside force: buy them out.
In any event, Jones would have gotten his point across, in addition to getting some measure of on Roger Goodell.
Not to mention the potential “bully pulpit” a NFL rival league would have in President Trump. The president has ripped the NFL over the anthem protests, and criticized the league as much as any chief executive has ever criticized a sports league. Meaning, that any rival football league would almost assuredly be backed by the full faith and credit of the most powerful Twitter account in the world.
A few tweets and public shows of support from Trump, would amount to tens of millions of free advertising for the new league.
Regardless of whether the league would be a rival or supplement to the NFL, it would be fun to watch and couldn’t come at a better time. Fans are ready to bail on the NFL, or at least give something else a try.
Only one piece of advice to McMahon, you might want to make a rule against protesting the anthem.