When wrestling meets football

 
 
Photo by Johnmaxmena2 // CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2001, a much hyped football league played its inaugural (and only) season. The XFL had been a heavily promoted football league that would “complement” the NFL. However, despite the hype and initial interest by fans, the XFL failed to return for a second season.

That is about to change though, as the man behind the original league, WWE’s Vince McMahon, has announced that the XFL will return in 2020 thanks to a $500 million relaunch. But what is the XFL, and what does it have to do with WWE?

What Does XFL Stand For?

Everyone knows that the NFL stands for National Football League. However, there was confusion over the XFL when it launched. It’s owners had planned to call the league the “‘Xtreme Football League”, but a league of that name already existed, so the official line was that the XFL did not stand for anything.

Why Do We Need Another League?

The idea for the XFL was conceived back in 1991 by Vince McMahon of the then World Wrestling Federation. It took him 10 years to turn the league into a reality, with the WWF forming it as a joint venture with NBC. The American TV network had recently lost some of its NFL broadcasting rights, and was looking for something to fill the gap.

Photo by Izaac Crayton

Xtreme Football?

The XFL was to differentiate itself from the NFL by playing a more aggressive form of football that would have fewer rules. While this would certainly change the dynamic of the games, the league being “xtreme” is up for debate. The league featured players who had not been able to get contracts with NFL teams, as players of the NFL rightly decided it was too high risk to jump to a new league. This led to criticism of the quality of the games.

Blending Football and Wrestling

The XFL would use some of WWF’s showmanship, and the TV coverage would feature some wrestling stars in punditry and commentary positions. It was hoped that this would allow the XFL to pick up fans of both football and wrestling. This resulted in some innovative camera angles, which are now used extensively in NFL coverage.

Wagering

Due to the outcome of WWE matches being predetermined, bookmakers will not accept bets on their outcomes. This is in contrast to boxing and the UFC, where bookmakers let fans place wagers on the outcome of each fight, the method of victory, or the number of rounds that the fight will last. Before the launch of the first iteration of the XFL, there had been speculation that the football games would also have predetermined outcomes.

However, this quickly went away when Las Vegas sportsbooks started accepting wagers on the games. The games in the re-launched XFL will also be competitive and therefore it is likely that bookmakers will again allow fans to place bets on the games.

Not a Rival to the NFL

The XFL was not the first league to compete against the NFL. Earlier in the league’s history it came up against several other rivals, including the American Football League, US Football League, and the most recent Alliance of American Football, which lasted eight weeks.

Vince McMahon planned for the XFL season to begin immediately after the end of the NFL’s. This would mean that football fans who were looking to continue watching the sport would not have to wait several months. While a clever idea, it was not enough to help the XFL survive.

Great Opening Night

Thanks to the marketing skills of McMahon, the WWE fan base, and the backing of NBC, the XFL opened with an impressive TV rating. However, they quickly began to dwindle, with NBC pulling the plug on the league after the first season due to its poor performance in the battle for viewing figures.

Second Time Lucky?

It’s difficult to say whether the XFL will succeed the second time around. The odds are stacked against it though; no rival football league has survived a battle with the NFL. It’s difficult to see what the XFL will do differently this time to ensure it is able to last longer than one season, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s probably Vince McMahon.