It looked grim for Vince McMahon’s notional reboot of the XFL when Charlie Ebersol announced his Alliance of American Football in March, given that Ebersol’s league featured more fully-realized versions of McMahon’s ideas and an earlier launch date. But, surprisingly and perhaps inexplicably, rumors of the XFL revival’s death appear to have been exaggerated. The last week or so have brought a few new developments on that front, all of which suggest that the new XFL can at least for the moment still be filed under A Thing That Is Happening. Perhaps most notably, page 29 of WWE’s 10-Q filing for Q1 2018, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week, includes this blurb:
19. Subsequent Events
On April 3, 2018, the Company entered into a transaction with Alpha Entertainment LLC (“Alpha”), an entity controlled by Vincent K. McMahon, granting Alpha rights to launch a professional football league under the name “XFL”. Alpha has announced that it expects that this launch will occur in early 2020. Under these agreements, WWE received, among other things, a minority equity interest in Alpha without payment by, or other financial obligation on the part of, WWE.
This seems to resolve what had been one of the more confusing aspects of McMahon’s XFL revival. The gambit was McMahon’s alone, but the WWE still owned some of the XFL trademarks, and others appeared to have been allowed to lapse after the new league was already in the works. Previously, WWE had declined comment to Deadspin about the exact nature of the trademark maneuvering that followed, citing a policy against commenting on legal matters. Why it took so many months to sort this out is unclear, but it looks like someone realized that the only way around this was to give WWE an interest in the league without requiring WWE to actually invest in the league. McMahon had pledged that the two companies would be separate, but eventually he succeeded in cutting an acceptable deal with himself.
A few days earlier, before WWE’s stake in the league was disclosed, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the XFL has interest in putting a team in Orlando; this was per Allen Johnson, who runs the city’s sports venues. According to Johnson, it was WWE’s John Saboor, who used to run the Central Florida Sports Commission, that made the call. “We were told that there is preliminary, high-level interest in Orlando and they would get back to us at a later date,” he said. “They did mention in the call that they were aware of the other league and felt that the Orlando market could support two teams.” It will have to: Orlando, along with Memphis and Atlanta, is one of three cities that the AAF has announced as getting teams so far. Oh, and their AAF entry already has Steve Spurrier locked in as head coach, to boot.
“Through the years we’ve received almost annually calls from somebody who has aspirations to bring some kind of football team to Orlando,” Johnson added. “But a lot of times they don’t get past the early conversations because of their ability for capitalization or whatever.” It looks like that’s why the two team thing doesn’t appear to be an issue for him. The prospective XFL team would call Camping World Stadium home, while the AAF team has already locked down the UCF Knights’ Spectrum Stadium.
All of this is great news if you’re into second-tier professional football and live in Central Florida, but a more recent development is probably of more interest to Deadspin readers. That would be a survey that Alpha Entertainment, the XFL’s parent company, sent out, and which Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer got ahold of. Meltzer summarized its content in the latest latest issue for subscribers:
- As promised, there are various ideas to speed up the game, which include no kickoffs, no timeouts, a 20-second play clock, the game clock only stopping for a change of possession, and fewer flags. One potential tagline for the league listed in the survey was “warp-speed football reinvented,” which at least makes more sense than the line about “padded roulette” from the XFL rap that played before McMahon’s announcement on January 25.
- No more facemasks on helmets, an innovation that the league’s brass believes will make tackles safer. McMahon, it happens, is also famously averse to masked wrestlers because he believes it’s harder to show emotion or build a connection with audiences when your face is covered. It’s not at all a stretch to see this as part of a McMahon plan to help fans relate to players.
- New, allegedly safer helmets. As noted many times over the years both here at Deadspin and elsewhere, the state of the art anti-concussion helmet business is, if we’re being generous, not exactly what helmet manufacturers make it out to be. If you’re feeling less generous, it’s more or less a grift.
- Asin the original XFL, there will be no extra point kicks, only plays similar to the two-point conversion. The original XFL used a traditional two-point conversion for the extra point, but allowed a two-point conversion from the five-yard line and a three-point conversion from the ten.
- Cash prizes for fans who most accurately call the same plays as the players in an XFL app during games.
- Team fan clubs that get a special section at the home stadium, can vote on jersey designs and team awards, and have access to pre/post-game meet and greet events.
- More official team/league sponsored events and vendor booths/trucks during tailgate parties.
This is all certainly more concrete than McMahon’s meandering, uncomfortable conference call with reporters in January; he clearly had no substantive ideas at that point and was soliciting suggestions. But Meltzer’s article adds that there is one particular AAF feature—that is, beyond that league’s clearly superior financial backing, infrastructure, and planning—that could kill the XFL’s prospects. In the same way that some smaller mixed martial arts promotions have “UFC out clauses” wherein a UFC contract offer lets a fighter out of a regional promotion contract, AAF players will be free to go to the NFL if they get an offer. In other words, unless there’s a huge pay disparity, which feels unlikely given the original XFL’s $45,000 salaries, players will have no reason to sign with the XFL unless the AAF folds after one season. A player who knows he’s NFL caliber and believes he’s overlooked—or a former NFL player with a lot left to offer, like Tommy Maddox in the original XFL—would be an idiot to pick the McMahon league over Ebersol’s.
Rule changes and marketing ideas are all well and good, but there’s still one question that McMahon can’t answer where his new XFL is concerned—who exactly is going to play in this thing?
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix