For the past week news has slowly trickled out regarding WWE owner Vince McMahon’s intention to bring back the XFL, an erstwhile competitor for the NFL which lasted for just one season back in 2001. Yesterday ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported that Vince McMahon had sold over three million shares of WWE stock to fund a $100 million venture.
I absolutely love the idea of McMahon, a fearless entertainer, bringing back the XFL in the modern media market. Honestly, I think the idea for the XFL, which was a league half owned by McMahon’s WWE and half owned by NBC, the league broadcaster, might have been ahead of its time.
It makes complete sense for a league and an existing network or entity like Netflix, Facebook, or Amazon to jointly own a pro sports league.
But what suggestions would I make to ensure the league has an audience?
Here are 11 ideas from me:
1. Play the season from mid-June to late August.
Have eight teams in two divisions of four each like you did with the XFL back in 2001.
The NBA finals ended on June 12th last season. They are typically over by June 15th every year. From that point until college football kicks off in late August or early September there are no sports on the calendar other than baseball. (The World Cup and the Olympics happen every two years, but they are relatively short seasons.) And, trust me as a guy who has three hours of radio to fill no matter what — there aren’t that many interesting stories that time of year.
So why not play a football season from mid-June to late August and crown your champion around August 28th, just before college football kicks off?
I think summer football would work well and it’s a wide open time on the American sporting calendar that’s waiting to be claimed by a new entrant.
2. Draft freshmen and sophomores from college football and offer them contracts to play in the XFL.
You want to get immediate attention for your league? Try to entice star college freshmen and sophomores to enter your league. Remember, those players aren’t eligible to play in the NFL until three years after they graduate from high school.
How many college football players might prefer to play in the XFL for decent money over staying in college and risking injury for no financial compensation? Can you imagine the amount of interest the XFL would get from sports fans if, say, a star player on a top college team had to decide whether to sign for a decent amount of money or return to play in college for free?
Hell, if you really want to take the attention to the next level, try and sign five star high school players and persuade them to come train for football with you full time rather than go to college at all. Would some high school kids take a guaranteed million dollars for a three year contract instead of going to college at all? They might. Plus, they could still consider the NFL after three years if they’ve developed into good players.
3. Sign star quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick, if possible, who are out of the NFL now.
Who wouldn’t watch a summer football game between Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow? How about Colin Kaepernick making his return to pro football in the XFL against Johnny Manziel? That would be the number one story of the summer by far.
Sure, some of these guys might turn down the contract offers and refuse to play in the XFL, but the story line of the offers themselves would be great fodder for national discussion.
4. Vince McMahon should own the entire league himself and name himself the commissioner.
He should run the league just like he runs the WWE.
If he doesn’t want the commissioner role, he should name me the commissioner and let me make every ruling Judge Judy-style on live television.
Can you imagine seeing a player pleading his case on whether or not he should be suspended for a late hit or dirty play on live television while I aggressively questioned him? Or an official being called before the commissioner to answer for a blown call and try to defend himself while I peppered him with questions?
This would be riveting television.
Football is entertainment, not serious life. So why not mock the NFL relentlessly by embracing the entertaining aspects of football controversy and taking a page from the WWE’s playbook? Put the commissioner on live TV and let him judge the players with fans watching.
5. Double player salaries for teams that make the playoffs, triple player salaries for teams that win the overall championship.
How much would fans love incentive-laden contracts?
You want to get paid a good salary? Win.
Offer your average player a base salary of around $100k, if you make the playoffs, you make $200k, win the championship, you get $300k. (Obviously top quarterbacks could receive salaries in the millions of dollars).
6. Put eight teams in cities that don’t have NFL franchises now.
Including several cities that have recently lost NFL franchises to relocation and are otherwise proven football markets.
My top suggestions for cities: Portland, San Diego, St. Louis, Albuquerque, Louisville, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Raleigh-Durham, Memphis, Orlando, Oakland, and Birmingham. I’m probably missing some other cities, but all of these places are good size cities with substantial interest in football.
Make concessions cheap and play in stadiums, when possible, that are smaller and only fit around 25-30k fans at most.
7. Insist players stand for the national anthem.
You want to punch the NFL right in the nose at the announcement of your league? Immediately announce that any player who doesn’t stand for the national anthem will be fired on the spot.
A huge percentage of football fans will be rooting for the league solely based on this.
8. Allow fans to call plays via an XFL social media app.
Initially have fans sign up for individual team apps for free and send notifications to them during the game once a quarter. When the fan clicks on the notification, he or she gets four play options. The team runs the play option the most fans suggest.
By year two start to charge for the app as a revenue stream outside the normal course of business.
9. Embrace gambling.
Don’t tiptoe up to it, regularly talk about the line and the impact of decisions made during the game on the line during the game broadcasts.
It’s summer, gambling on football while having a few beers and kicking back on the couch would be insanely popular.
10. No field goals or extra points and teams can’t punt once they cross mid-field.
You want to make the game even more exciting? Eliminate all punts. What if you had to go for it on fourth down every possession no matter where you were on the field and no matter what the down and distance was?
Why do people act like football can’t ever be changed? What’s more exciting than a fourth down play right now? Imagine if teams had to go for it on fourth down seven or eight times a game no matter where they were on the field?
Also, eliminate all extra points, teams go for two every time.
The result? Tons of points and wild finishes.
11. Pick nontraditional announcers.
Let’s stop with the voice of god announcers who never say anything that interesting. I want fans ripping players and coaches; I want an announcer who can make me laugh, who might say something inappropriate, push the envelope and get rid of the politically correct crap.
If the XFL embraced several of these ideas, I’d definitely be watching.