In theory, the XFL created by Vince McMahon, could’ve been a huge success.The timing was perfect with the NFL’s popularity growing leaving fans wanting even more football, enter the XFL planning to start their season in February, right after the Super Bowl. Enter Dick Ebersol, co-creator of Saturday Night Live and current president of NBC, looking to replace the NFL which had decided to get as much money possible from networks to air their games. Now throw in some television promotions that draw on the raw aggression of the game, the sex appeal of the cheerleaders, and don’t forget the ‘No Fair Catch’ rule and it seems like the XFL was going to be the next NFL.
How did it all fall apart? Well to answer that question, we should probably start at the beginning. McMahon somehow got NBC Sports on board to broadcast the games, yet it’s discussed in the film that McMahon had no clear vision for the league. Sure, he could hold a press conference and make it seem like the league was coming together and was ready to take on the giant that was the NFL, but behind closed doors it seemed as if the league had no idea how the game was going to set itself apart from their counterpart.
This lack of a vision most likely led Ebersol to tell top NBC Sports talents like Bob Costas that they were not to be involved with the broadcasting of the XFL, which in hindsight was a smart move considering the reputation Costas and crew had in sports broadcasting (the XFL actually wanted the cheerleaders to date the players and even the sideline reporters, which shows how classy the league was).
But still the XFL trudged on creating an advertising campaign that got the attention of football fans and beginning their 30 day training camp with all the teams staying in Vegas to get ready. Players were not paid to attend training camp, instead only hoping that they could find a way to play professional football. And the XFL created an interesting way to actually pay the players once the season started by essentially telling them that they are guaranteed to get $4,000 a game, but if they won they could earn another $3,300 more. This ensured that the players weren’t being overpaid and had extra motivation to actually win the game.
But here’s where the XFL starts to unravel, the product on the field was horrible. Their idea that 30 days was enough time for these guys to find their rhythm and play fantastic football was impossible. There was no way that even the best teams in the NFL could do that, it takes time to draw up plays that work best for the players and figure out how each player works best. So of course, the first game of the season was horrible, yet the ratings showed otherwise with 54 million people tuning in. Of course, this is attributed to the promotional campaign that was rolled out in order to gain that interest, so if the XFL had actual talent on the field they could have easily carried this momentum into the following weeks of the season.
Nobody in the XFL really had an idea of what they were doing either which is evident by the Week 2 mess that happened right when the action of the field was actually shaping up to be great football. Of course, McMahon blames the NBC crew for the power outage but really they just as much to blame since he shouldn’t double checked that everything was running right. Of course, then the game that needs to end on time for Saturday Night Live ends up going into double overtime, which hurts both the XFL and SNL respectively, proving that NBC’s hopes of the XFL replacing the NFL in their lineup was over.
Going back to the original question: how did it all fall apart? McMahon had no business creating a football league when all he had known was pro wrestling. Ebersol was insane for thinking that he could replace the NFL (hence why he created Sunday Night Football). And ultimately had the play on the field been better, the league might have stood a chance, but alas greed and most likely ego proved to be too much for the XFL to really stand a chance.
If you’re going to take on the Top Dog, you better make sure that every piece of your arsenal is the absolute best of the best.